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We can have both high-quality education and safe, cost-effective prisons

In 2012, the Arizona Department of Corrections’ budget increased by 11 percent. It was the only agency that increased its share of the state’s general fund. At the same time, education funding at all levels plummeted, with our state’s education system ranking 44 out of 51, according to “Education Week.”

Voters across the state are taking notice. One year of prison costs at least $17,000 per person while average per student funding in K-12 schools is less than $8,000. Is it smart spending to pay twice as much to incarcerate, rather than to educate someone? Especially when 43 percent of those released from prison later return?

Many running for office are being questioned about Arizona’s increased contracting with private prison companies: Are they cheaper? Are they well-managed and adequately staffed? And most important, are they safe? The answer to all these questions is “no.”

Arizona’s private prisons are overall more costly than equivalent state-run units. Their management and staff are not as qualified or experienced. This leads to compromises in safety, as grimly evidenced by the escapes from the privately run facility in Kingman in 2010, which ultimately led to two murders. Finally, private prisons benefit from keeping people in prison; not from providing programming and preparation to return prisoners to our communities as productive, tax- paying citizens.

People running for office are being asked why our prison population is so high, when leaders in other U.S. states across the political spectrum have both reduced prison populations and reduced crime. In doing so, they saved millions of taxpayer dollars.

We incarcerate many people whose crimes, including drug offenses, stem from mental illness. Both addiction and mental illness lead people to commit multiple offenses — not because they didn’t “learn their lesson,” but because they are not receiving the assistance (medication, therapy) they need to be able to control their behavior.

Cost-effective and safe alternatives such as mental health courts and other diversion programs treat the root causes of their offenses, preventing future crime. All this reduces the costs of corrections, freeing scarce state resources for other critical needs.

This election season, thoughtful voters have a real choice. They can choose candidates who will continue the status quo — a costly corrections system and substandard educational system — or they can pick candidates with vision and the courage to stand up to private prison special interests and fight for a smart budget that balances the need for a high-quality educational system and a safe and cost- effective corrections system.

— Caroline Isaacs, program director, American Friends Service Committee.

6 comments

  1. What bubble is Caroline Issacs living in? The picture she paints suggests that state-operated prisons are the model of rehabilitation, effeciency and professionalism. May I remind her that for every incident that emerges from the mangement of a private prison, I can match her with dozens of tragedies that have occurred at the hands of state-operated prison officials. Marcia Powell, who was literally fried to death in an outdoor cage while prison staff deliberately ignored her cries, was murdered at a state-operated prison. Tony Lester, a mentally ill inmate, was denied mental health medications and care as recommended by his sentencing judge, given a razor blade, and slashed his own groin, wrists and throat while prison staff (state operated) stood by and videotaped his gurgling last breaths rather than rendering aid. Tony Lucero provided information to state prison officials and a county attorney about a prison murder and became a target for retaliation. Rather than provide protection, state prison administrators placed him in harm’s way and his throat was slashed and his eyes gouged out at the state prison. I could go on.

    The private prisons that operate in Arizona under contract with the state, including the one in Kingman, generally operate safely and efficiently. If they cost a little more, it is because they are safer for prisoners, and I am happy to pay a little more for that service. They have no control over how long a prisoner is sentenced to prison; the courts have that power. The state monitors (working for DOC who were supposed to monitor contract compliance) utterly failed in their jobs which ultimately resulted in the Kingman tragedy. Much of the blame for that incident must be placed on the Arizona Department of Corrections for not doing their job, as required, to monitor their own contracts.

    Issacs is naive and uninformed.

  2. The legislators are to blame for the mass incarceration of Arizona’s people. Building new private prisons that the state does NOT need is shameful. its ALL about profiteering by turning human beings into commodities for $$’s.

    The war on our people …. the U.S. #1 Jailer in the world. Unconscionable in the “land of the free”.

    “The House I Live” Award winning documentary at Sundance. The war on our people. In Official Trailer #1 (2012) – YouTube

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0atL1HSwi8

    ‘War on Drugs’ Fueled by Private Prison Industry Video: Filmmaker Eugene Jarecki Says

    http://www.opposingviews.com/i/society/crime/video-filmmaker-eugene-jarecki-says-war-drugs-fueled-private-prison-industry

    excerpt: “On Tuesday night’s ‘Daily Show,’ filmmaker Eugene Jarecki explained how the so-called ‘war on drugs’ was fueled by private prisons, which are owned by corporations (video below).
    Jarecki’s new documentary, ‘The House I Live In,’ shows how America’s war on drugs results in mass imprisonment, financial gain for prison owners and big money for police officers who clock mountains of overtime with drug arrests, reports RawStory.com.
    Jarecki told host Jon Stewart: “We are seeing places where the extraordinary power of corporations in this country, and the unholy alliance they have with those in Congress, is destroying everything… There are private prisons all over this country that rely for their own survival on the incarceration of our fellow human beings.”

    “I went to prison-industrial trade shows where I saw people who literally make their entire life’s work out of selling you the better stun gun.”

    Jarecki added: “This has been such a disaster. Forty-years, a trillion dollars spent, 45 million arrests, and yet drugs are cheaper, purer, more available today than ever before.”

  3. Get informed…. the data the profiteers do not want the public to see.

    “By the numbers: The U.S.’s growing for-profit detention industry” | The Raw Story

    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/06/20/by-the-numbers-the-u-s-’s-growing-for-profit-detention-industry/

  4. From a taxpayer and concerned citizen point of view..

    It’s quite obvious to those who study the history of 4 decades of failed public policy that has decimated America that the same rich people that own the prisons, fund illegal drug running into the US and then lobby congress for tougher drug laws, perfect business cycle for them.

    If this wasn’t true then why do the county attorneys and prosecutors association fight any meaningful sentencing reform that would save taxpayers millions of $$’s as other conservative state are doing, like Texas, Mississippi, etc.

    Why is Chuck Coughlin / Paul Senseman, High Ground lobbyists (CCA) driving the state’s public policy for the Governor?

  5. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/03/us/03prison.html?_r=0

    Prison Spending Outpaces All but Medicaid

    By SOLOMON MOOREPublished: March 2, 2009

    “One in every 31 adults, or 7.3 million Americans, is in prison, on parole or probation, at a cost to the states of $47 billion in 2008, according to a new study.MultimediaGraphicPrison Boom

    Criminal correction spending is outpacing budget growth in education, transportation and public assistance, based on state and federal data. Only Medicaid spending grew faster than state corrections spending, which quadrupled in the past two decades, according to the report Monday by the Pew Center on the States, the first breakdown of spending in confinement and supervision in the past seven years.”

    Who profits? google ALEC / Coughlin / High Ground / CCA / Senseman / SB1070 / KS Kris Koblach / brewer / russell pearce…?

    Who loses? The taxpayers, the people, families and children.

  6. Event at U. of Arizona Board of Regents: “DeConcini Step Down Flash Mob” 12/4/12

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