Arizona Seeks Bids for Death Row to Reduce Deficit
|Guards escort an inmate in a privately-run Arizona facility.|
(JENNIFER STEINHAUER/New York Times)
One of the largest costs to any government is the housing of prisoners. Because the public sector sees no return on the money spent on criminal detention, it is usually a large piece of the deficit pie in a mismanaged budget like Arizona's. Because of this, it is not unusual that a state would first plan to cut detention funding in times of deficit. One proposal calls for the early release of a quarter of the felon inmates who are close to the end of their sentence as well as cutting healthcare for children (DD). But would privatization really help in the long-run?
The New York Times reports that, "[A] 2001 study found that private prisons save most states very little money. Indeed, many states, struggling to keep up with the cost of corrections, have closed prisons when possible and sought changes in sentencing to reduce crowding in the past two years" (RS). This might not be a bad idea for Arizona, either. Given that Arizona's recidivism rate is one of the lowest in the county, at 24.5%, it might be wise to close some of their prisons outright and let their inmate education programs pay off in the community (LVS). But in an act of desperation, the Arizona government has decided to put their prisons up for privatization in hopes of receiving $100 million upfront upon signing the contract -- a band-aid solution where a cast is needed (NYT).
This call to privatize death row is the first in American history. Because of the enormous costs of housing the highest-risk inmates and the high transparency it is doubtful to some that a private company would even agree to take on a death row venture. Death row facilities are "very visible...and if something bad happens there, you will have a pretty big news story for the Legislature and governor to explain," says James Austin, a co-author of a 2001 Department of Corrections report on prison privatization (NYT). Despite the facilities being owned by a private company, the New York Times reports that the executions of the inmates would still be delegated by the State of Arizona, reducing some, but not all, of the liability in operating a death row detention center.
I am very interested to see if CCA or another company picks up the deal for a the death row facility. It is likely that the other facilities up for privatization will go under contract, but a death row facility just seems too high risk for a private company to want to take control of. However, I never cease to be surprised by the outcomes and decisions of the private prison industry. Check back here for the latest news in Arizona's widespread prison bid-off.