Despite Declining Population, Arizona Department Of Corrections Looking For More Private Prison Beds

Published: Monday, January 4, 2021 - 4:33pm
Updated: Tuesday, January 5, 2021 - 9:04am

Despite having the lowest population in years, the Arizona Department of Corrections is seeking more private prison beds for inmates in state prisons.

After remaining near a population of 42,000 total inmates in state prisons for several years, the Department of Corrections is home to 37,609 inmates as of Jan. 4, 2021.

Yet due to staffing shortages and plans to close the state prison in Florence, the Department of Corrections is seeking "availability and pricing on up to 2,706 private prisons beds," according to a request for information from the Department’s procurement officer.

The RFI says the state is looking for “beds within the state of Arizona for medium to close custody male inmates, with provisions for two inmates per cell.”

The Department of Corrections said it is in “the information gathering stage and no decisions have been made concerning the issuance of a formal Request for Proposal.”

A spokesperson for the Department said they are exploring adding more private beds “to help stabilize staffing levels throughout the system and provide additional bed management capacity for capital projects.”

As of Dec. 1, 2020, there were 5,617 filled correctional officer positions out of 6,665 authorized positions statewide — a deficit of more than a 1,000 employees.

Caroline Isaacs, program director of American Friends Service Committee of Arizona, said turning to the private prison industry for help was “exactly the wrong direction” for the state to go.

“We have already seen a dramatic decrease in our prison population due to COVID and other factors,” Isaacs said, “and there are proposals on the table, legislatively, that would produce an even more significant drop in the population and make this unnecessary.

She said entrusting the lives of more incarcerated people to private corporations would be a mistake.

“These are the people that brought us the Kingman riots, escapes and all manner of problems,” Isaacs said. “One of the oldest mythologies is that these private corporations are somehow going to be able to fix problems and do things better and more efficiently than government bureaucracy. The reality is that you’re just taking a corporation and sticking it in the middle of the bureaucracy and they’re going to skim a profit off the top.”

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