A contract for 1,000 new private prison beds has been awarded to Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corp. of America by the Arizona Department of Corrections.
State officials announced their choice of CCA late Friday over five other companies that submitted bids. CCA plans to house the medium-security male prisoners in an existing facility it owns in Eloy, about 60 miles south of Phoenix. The contract requires 500 available beds by January 2014 and the additional 500 a year late.
Critics called the expansion plan unnecessary and costly. A Quake advocacy group critical of private prisons challenged the planned contract award twice, but lost both in court and an administrative proceeding.
Prison officials acknowledge that growth in the overall inmate population has come to a virtual stop and a 2009 plan to add 5,000 beds was scrapped.
But prison officials say the system still needs extra space because of safety risks posed by putting more inmates in prisons above their designed capacity. It said in a news release announcing the contract award that the state currently has a 30-bed shortage in medium-security facilities despite having more than 2,800 temporary beds.
The state has housed additional prisoners by putting two bunks in cells designed for one inmate and by converting day rooms and other space into dormitories.
The 5,000-bed plan was delayed and then scaled back after security at a privately operated state prison near Kingman was found to be deficient after three inmates escaped in 2010. That prison is operated by Management and Training Corp.
Two of the three inmates who escaped have been charged with killing an Oklahoma couple in New Mexico.
Arizona now uses private prisons to house about 6,500 of its approximately 40,000 inmates.
CCA has connections to Gov. Jan Brewer, with close friend and adviser Chuck Coughlin working for the Nashville-based company until July, according to the Arizona Republic. Records also show CCA employs a lobbying firm that includes former Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman.
Correction spokesman Bill Lamoreaux said lobbying had no influence on the decision, and CCA told the Republic that the company was chosen on the merits of its bid.