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Judge refuses to halt private prison bidding process

Inmates line up for lunch at the Arizona State Prison in Florence. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge refused on Thursday to halt the bidding process for planned private prisons.

Judge Arthur Anderson ruled that the plaintiffs – parents of a man incarcerated in a private prison and a Quaker group – lacked standing to bring the suit. They were asking the court to stop the bidding until the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADOC) completed a required biennial cost benefit analysis comparing state-run and private prisons.

Caroline Isaacs, a spokeswoman for American Friends Service Committee, a social action arm of the Quaker faith, said the group is considering an appeal.

The department is considering the bids of four companies to build prisons in five possible locations to house 5,000 prisoners.

ADOC Director Charles Ryan said the prisons are necessary to ease overcrowding. The department has never completed the required biennial study, but is in the process and expected to finish by January.

The Quaker group filed suit Sept. 12 to stop the bidding until the study was completed, arguing that the department has created a public safety issue by not complying with the law, citing security failures at a private prison in Kingman where inmates escaped in July 2010. One of the escapees now stands accused of murdering an Oklahoma couple before he was captured.

The state currently contracts with two companies that operate five prisons and house about 6,400 of the state’s 40,000 inmates.

In siding with state, Anderson wrote in his ruling that the function of the statute requiring the study isn’t to ensure public safety or use tax dollars wisely, but to only make sure the report gets done and sent to the Legislature.

The department has until Nov. 22 to award the bids.

“We’re still in the evaluation phase and the court’s action (Thursday) doesn’t change anything,” said Barrett Marson, department spokesman.

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