A suit seeking to temporarily block the Arizona Department of Corrections from contracting for up to 5,000 more private-prison beds was dismissed Friday in Maricopa County Superior Court.
Without addressing the public-safety and fiscal issues raised by a Quaker prison-watchdog group, Judge Arthur Anderson ruled that the group lacked legal standing to prevent the state from issuing the contracts.
A Corrections spokesman said the department is still evaluating proposals from four bidders and that the dismissal of the suit won't affect the timing of any award.
Corrections, which previously had expected to announce an award as early as last month, recently asked the four companies - Corrections Corp. of America, Geo Group, Management and Training Corp., and LaSalle Corrections - to keep their bids open until Nov. 22.
In its Sept. 14 suit, the American Friends Service Committee's Tucson office, which monitors state prisons, said that Corrections had failed to comply with a long-standing state law on private-prison contracts. That law requires the department to perform detailed biannual studies comparing private-prisons contracts with the operations of state-run prisons.
As The Arizona Republic first reported in August, the department has never conducted these studies, which are supposed to analyze costs, the security and safety of each prison, how inmates are managed and controlled, inmate discipline, programs, health and food services, staff training, administration, and other factors as compared with state facilities.
The suit charged that without these studies, the state can't say whether private prisons are more cost-effective than state facilities, as state law requires. The department said it will complete the first of the required studies by January.
Caroline Isaacs, the committee's Arizona program director, said the group is considering whether to appeal or take other legal action.
"Our concerns remain unchanged," Isaacs said