This in earlier today from Caroline Isaacs at the American Friends Service Committee in Tucson. Sorry I'm just opening my mail now. Her contact info is below - she has legislative information faster than I do, and knows a lot about private prisons...Please email these legislators Tuesday.
Along these lines, don't forget that Wednesday, December 2, at 7pm Professor Mona Lynch will be at Changing Hands in Tempe (see book cover to left) discussing her research into Arizona's Department of Corrections, and the effect our take on crime and punishment has had over the past four decades on the crisis of mass incarceration in America. I would imagine she'd have something to say about privatization issues, and I'm sure she'll take questions.
Apart from how informative I think her talk will be, attending would also be a good way to connect with others who share concerns about the need for sentence reform, strengthening of prisoner protections and rights, the high recidivism rate among parolees, the incidence of untreated mental illness and addiction in the criminal justice system (instead of in the health care system, which would actually be cheaper), and the blatant marketing of members of our families and communities as consumers and workers to be exploited while they are also being punished. That exploitation reaches us all.
There are also 10,000 employees with the Department of Corrections to consider, many of whom could lose what little they have left in the way of job security, benefits, etc. from the state. The whole point of this privatization thing is to do it cheaper than they are already - you know who that's coming out of: prisoners and guards. Selling and leasing back our properties has got to be one of the stupidest ideas I've heard of come out of a state legislature (well, not so much now that I've read Sunbelt Justice). That's like selling my car to a rent-to-own company that will eventually collect from me twice the original value of the car...which, by the time it's been paid off, I'll need to get a new one.
I don't think the Republican Party is who my folks and grandparents signed up with anymore. Arizona's GOP has got one mean streak that my grandpa never had - and he was a Republican from the Iowa farmland. There's got to be a better way to deal with the budget crisis than starving our kids today, and committing them to pay our debts for decades more.
I'm no party member (of any party, frankly), but I'm pretty sure that's not supposed to be part of the GOP platform - people have just been sneaking this right-wing stuff in draped in Old Glory, hushing the resistance among them with tributes to fallen soldiers and protection of their interests with the full force of the law.
I don't think this charade will last much longer, though. The real Republicans began re-evaluating their affiliation and loyalties a few years ago, when the extremists took power - they are increasingly "Independent" - which may soon be the third party in the middle. I believe the National Republican Party is about to wake up to what an embarrassment the Republican leadership in this state is to them - with Arizona's own Bull Connor racial-profiling and beating down the civil rights marchers, and Wallace desperately trying to keep the Jim Crow South intact (Pearce would be the best parallel there, I think).
The state GOP will hopefully be steered back from the brink of disaster by people like my grandparents who thought carefully about the possible consequences of their investments, and who put their principles and other human beings above their "politics." This year will be the last year those men retain power. The people are taking it back - not the Democrats - all of us. Not only have a bunch of progressive US citizens moved out here, but the indigenous peoples and early migrants here from the South have been growing in both numbers and influence. And we're all in solidarity against men like Arpaio, Thomas, and Pearce. We will resist and elect new legislators. In the meantime, however, we must still keep them from privatizing the state prison system.
It just doesn't seem necessary to make it so hard on future generations like this. After what happened to Marcia Powell, I also think there are enough citizens in this state who would stop and try to figure out how to help if they saw all that went down - not just the day she lay dying in that cage, but the years that led up to her being there and being discarded so easily. We need to look at how overcrowding affects the survival of prisoners and the roles and safety of guards. We need to ask what community-based programs work for people with mental illness, for women with addictions, for survivors of trauma, for those among us who have been so thoroughly institutionalized that we don't know how to deal with the "real world" anymore - many of us messed up by eight years of war.
There are enough people of privilege here who I think would be willing to give a little more if they understood what was at stake for everyone. Considering how much we've extracted from the blood and sweat of the indigenous, migrant, minority, and working class communities that fill Arizona's prisons now, we should at least make sure they get decent care when they develop cancer, aren't doomed to contract Hep C or HIV by unsanitary and crowded conditions. We shouldn't be hitting them up with the bill for thier own oppression, either - the poor are already very generous, and the only tax plans being discussed to bail out the state are those which shift even more of the financial burden for running this thing onto us, without giving us any voice in how our money is spent. Zero voice. We pay legislative salaries with our sales tax, but just kicked in the teeth every time the budget or crime bills come up.
So, whether or not you work, or even whether or not you have the right to vote here, every consumer in Arizona is a taxpayer with a vested interest in where our dollars are spent: warehousing people who are brutalized out of our sight, or invested someplace where it might keep a few kids from ever ending up on the path to prison in the first place.
Do go to the Private Corrections Institute website and dig into some of their information on these private prison companies. We can't let them take over the state's power to use violence against people. That's a privilege reserved to the state - I believe it's called the "monopoly on violence". Once we give that power to private companies motivated only by profit, we surrender our communities and the future of Arizona's children to corporate interests - all of whom will be invested in lobbying for higher incarceration rates. Imagine their current lobbying influence in the state multiplied exponentially... that's what will happen if they take over the prisons. They begin to take over who makes the laws.
In the meantime, check out who already in the private prison industry's pockets - our lawmakers aren't all clean on this. Don't let them slide...it's out there already, and not hard to find.
I guess that's enough for this post - I did edit it, for those of you who are confused now.. I'll put up Caroline's alert separately, below it, so you can skip my editorializing if you want...
Arizona's corrections budget has doubled over the last fifteen years, placing a tremendous burden on taxpayers and on the families of state university students. Despite the growth in corrections spending, however, the state prison system remains underfunded and dangerously overcrowded.
Arizona's corrections crisis has led many to call for an overhaul of the state's sentencing system, which packs state prisons with non-violent substance abusers who make up half of all prisoners. Others argue that privatization is the answer to the state's prison woes because private companies can operate prisons at lower cost and finance new prisons the state cannot afford.
Bolstered by reports of cost-savings, supporters of privatization won legislative approval for thousands of new permanent private beds, including a 1,400-bed DUI prison in Kingman and a 1,000-bed prison for people convicted of sex offenses. As a result, state-contracted private prison beds nearly tripled between 2003 and 2005.
But the research used to justify the expansion of the private prison program is methodologically flawed, outdated and, in one case, discredited by the researcher's financial ties to the private prison industry. And critical issues such as the implications of municipal bond financing of private expansion have never been addressed.
Justice Strategies found that no rigorous, independent evaluation had been made of Arizona's private prison program, nor had the cost-comparison figures reported by DOC been independently audited. Existing research failed to account for key factors such as population characteristics, facility design and proper allocation of costs.
Our analysis also determined that prisoners housed in private facilities were far less likely to be convicted of serious or violent offenses, or to have high medical and mental health needs, than prisoners housed in public facilities. Public prisoners were seven times as likely to be serving time for violent offenses, three times more likely to be serving time for serious offenses and two times more likely to have high medical needs than those housed in private facilities.
We also found that private prison costs have risen rapidly since 2002 due to generous contracts approved by former DOC Director Terry Stewart. The new rates range from nine to 35 percent above the old rates and appear to have pushed the cost of private prison beds well above comparable public costs. Finally, the use of municipal bonds to finance construction of new private prisons and re-finance existing facilities carries significant risks for both the state and host counties that have assisted with financing.
The report was authored by Justice Strategies analyst Kevin Pranis and commissioned by the American Friends Service Committee - Tucson and the Arizona Leadership Institute.
Click on the attachment at the end of the page to read the full report as a PDF document.