Tucson Citizen (October 21, 2010)
by cell-out-arizona on Oct. 21, 2010, under AFSC, City of Tucson, Jail, Privatization, private prison
Nick Oza/The Arizona Republic
At the City Council meeting Tuesday (10/19/10), Council Member Steve Kozachik initiated a very thoughtful discussion about the high cost of jail incarceration and what the City might do to bring jail costs down while promoting better public safety outcomes.
High points included an excellent presentation from Adult Probation on the use of Evidence-Based Practices in sentencing, Council Member Ulich’s suggestion to bring together a collaborative planning body that could iron out differences between the City and County, and Council Member Romero’s heartfelt plea that the discussion not overlook the importance of alternative courts, such as the Veteran’s Court.
Unfortunately, one of the options placed on the table by TPD’s Assistant Chief John Leavitt was a “Private Prison RFQ.”
Apparently, this had been under serious discussion in the past, in this case, the management of a DUI facility (a favorite gateway drug for the for-profits). The fly in the ointment at the time was the fact that the private operator wanted a gender-segregated facility for men only. Women are simply too expensive to incarcerate, and for-profit prisons rarely take them.
While Leavitt acknowledged the for-profit’s propensity to cherry pick, he still touted the projected cost savings such a facility could generate.
We would suggest that our friends at the City Council talk with their counterparts in Brooksville, Florida. They recently took the Hernando County Jail back from Corrections Corporation of America, because they discovered that the county could run it more cheaply. The case is a fascinating cautionary tale for local officials who believe that privatization is a cheap alternative.
Consider the following:
•The annual 4% increase to the per diem that CCA built into their 5-year contract ended up crippling the county budget
•Nearly $7 out of every $100 property owners paid in taxes in 2008 went to pay for the jail
•CCA withheld $422,000 it owed to the county from income on additional beds in the jail
•In 2009, the Sheriff announced that he could run the jail more cheaply: “The difference between us doing it and CCA doing it is, we don’t have to carry the corporate load…We don’t have to support all the staff (at company headquarters) in Nashville. We don’t have to show a profit margin for shareholders.” (March 5, 2010 St Petersburg Times)
•Then the county discovered major structural and maintenance problems in the jail, including “roof leaks, rusted doors, safety problems, cracks and separations on the concrete floor, walls and ceiling.” (April 13, 2010 Hernando Today). County taxpayers were on the hook for millions of dollars in repair cost due to years of neglect.
•Finally, in April of 2010, CCA announced that it was walking away from its contract to run the jail, giving the county just 120 days notice. CCA also announced that they would remove beds, mattresses, cameras and other safety equipment that the company believed it owns.
•When the County finally took over the facility, guards’ pay increased. The Sheriff announced that all sworn deputies will receive the same base salary of $39,401. For those CCA employees who qualify for the new deputy position and are already state-certified corrections officers, their salaries will be bumped up more than $7,000, from their current $32,169 to $39,401.
•As a parting shot, CCA is suing the County over money held back from the firm and equipment the county claims to own.
For the whole sordid history, see Private Corrections Working Groups’ “Florida Hall of Shame”: http://www.privateci.org/
We would be curious to know if any of the private prison corporations have come sniffing around recently. Between SB1070 and the 5,000 bed RFP issued by the Department of Corrections, the for-profit prison industry has been having a feeding frenzy in Arizona over the past year or so.
CCA is looking to build yet another prison down on Wilmot Road, south of the freeway. It’s only logical that their highly-paid consultants might want to chat up the folks at the City about a new jail while they’re here getting the land re-zoned for the proposed state prison.
All we can say is, buyer beware.