Home / Capitol Insiders / Cost-benefit study of prisons late, but state going ahead with 5,000 more private beds 

Cost-benefit study of prisons late, but state going ahead with 5,000 more private beds 

An inmate stands at his cell door at the maximum security facility at the Arizona State Prison in Florence, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

The Department of Corrections has long been out of compliance with a law requiring the director to complete a cost-benefit analysis comparing private and state-run prisons every two years.

DOC Director Charles Ryan, who took over the job in January 2009, said he started working on his analysis a few months ago.

But House Minority Leader Chad Campbell insists that’s not good enough.

Campbell, in an Aug. 16 letter, took Ryan and Gov. Jan Brewer to task over the planned construction of private prisons to house 5,000 additional inmates and accused them of not following the law.

The Phoenix Democrat wants them to stop the procurement process until after the cost-benefit study is completed and the state can prove private prisons are safe and secure. The state is set to award one or more contracts Sept. 16.

The state currently contracts with two companies that operate five prisons and house about 6,400 inmates.

Campbell, an outspoken opponent of private prisons who last session introduced several dead-on-arrival bills to beef up regulations, said he isn’t satisfied to know the department is working on the study because a finished product is what is needed to compare the two kinds of prisons.

“Bottom line is this study, this audit, this report has to be done, it’s state law, it’s part of the contractual arrangement we have with these companies,” Campbell said.

The DOC for years has done annual cost comparisons between the state-run and private prisons, which have generally shown that private prisoners cost more per capita. But nothing has been done to measure the quality of service, which the biennial study would do.

The statute reads: “The department shall conduct a biennial comparison of the services provided by the vendor for the purpose of comparing private versus public provision of services. The comparison of services shall be based on professional correctional standards specified by the director and incorporated into the contract and shall be used for the purpose of determining if the contractor is providing at least the same quality of services as this state at a lower cost or if the contractor is providing services superior in quality to those provided by this state at essentially the same cost.”

The statute requires the comparison of nine dimensions of service, including security, inmate management and control, facility safety and sanitation and personnel practices and training.

The statute doesn’t set due dates and doesn’t provide a sanction for not complying.

“Since I have returned to the department in 2009, we have not conducted a biennial comparison to the existing contracts,” Ryan said.

But he has informed the Auditor General’s Office, which is conducting a review of the agency, it will be done no later than January 2012.

“We need to see it,” Campbell said. “There’s no way we can be expanding private prisons without this being done.”

Ryan said there is no evidence his predecessor, Dora Schriro, who was appointed by former Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano, conducted the biennial review, either.

Schriro, who is commissioner of New York City Department of Corrections, served from 2003 until January 2009, when Ryan took over.

Schriro declined comment through a spokeswoman.

Ryan said that when he was a deputy director under Schriro’s predecessor, Terry Stewart, the department conducted yearly performance evaluations for both state-run and private prisons.

He said those audits were in compliance with the biennial statute, saying that “in part and parcel there were many performance measures” of the dimension of services that have to be evaluated.

Brewer Spokesman Matthew Benson questioned the timing of Campbell’s complaint, especially since a Democratic administration never got the study done, either. Benson said there are no plans to halt bids for private prison facilities.

“The fact that now Mr. Campbell is making an issue of this seems to be political opportunism on his part,” Benson said.

Campbell’s motives are clear: He said he believes Arizona should be shrinking private prisons instead of expanding them, especially in light of the July 2010 escape from a Kingman prison run by Management and Training Corporation. One of the escapees stands accused of killing an Oklahoma couple during his 19 days on the lam.

Ryan said that since that escape he has beefed up inspections of all prisons.

He also said the system needs the 5,000 minimum- and medium-security beds, some of which are set to come on line in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2013, and the remaining ones by fiscal year 2015.

Many prisoners have been housed in aging Quonset huts, dayrooms, and squeezed into areas not designed for their numbers, Ryan said.

Those arrangements would be eliminated with the new beds.

“We generally overcrowded our facilities,” Ryan said.

Recent prison expansions have brought some relief, allowing the state to accept Arizona prisoners who were housed out of state and alleviate areas of severe overcrowding, he said.

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