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Arizona eyes more private prison contracts

(AP Photo/Matt York)

A company that operates an Arizona prison where three violent offenders escaped last year is among four firms that the state Department of Corrections is proposing be awarded contracts for 5,000 new prison beds.

Centerville, Utah-based Management and Training Corp. operates the prison in Kingman that state officials have said was plagued with security flaws that allowed the escape last July.

Two of the three inmates who escaped are charged in New Mexico with killing an Oklahoma couple while the inmates were on the run.

The state received proposals from five companies and is recommending contracts for four of them, it said in a brief notice posted late Friday on its website.

The posting said the department will send required notices to legislators and local officials this week, hold public hearings in the communities involved, and plans to award contracts in September.

According to information released by the state, the new prison beds could be built at sites in Eloy, Yuma, Winslow, Coolidge and Perryville, which is in Litchfield Park.

Department spokesman Barrett Marson said the companies’ proposals remain confidential under state procurement laws.

The department declined to make Director Charles Ryan available for an interview but said in response to emailed questions that it intends to award contracts for 5,000 minimum- and medium-security beds, the number cited in its request for proposals.

Asked why it was proposing another contract for Management and Training Corp. in the wake of the security shortcomings found at the Kingman prison, the department said only that it hadn’t made a final decision.

“This is part of an evaluation and public hearing process at five locations,” the department email said.

The four companies the department recommended for contracts included Management and Training Corp. for sites in Yuma and Coolidge; Nashville, Tenn.,-based Corrections Corp. of America for an Eloy site; the GEO Group of Boca Raton, Fla., for sites in Yuma and Perryville; and LaSalle Correctional Management of Ruston, La., for a Winslow site.

The proposals being recommended involve publicly owned sites in Yuma and Perryville and private ones at Coolidge, Eloy and Winslow, the department said.

The fifth company that submitted a proposal, Emerald Correctional Management of Lafayette, La., was not recommended for a contract.

Chairmen of two state House and Senate committees that often consider prison-related legislation did not immediately return calls for comment on the latest development.

However, a Democratic lawmaker said he was shocked that Gov. Jan Brewer’s administration was proceeding with plans to build more private prisons and that Management and Training Corp. was involved.

“We should put a stop to any new construction of private prisons” until there are answers about their cost and safety, said House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix. “We can and we should be addressing the problems of private prisons.”

Arizona’s Republican-led Legislature has pushed for increased reliance on private prisons for decades, with proponents arguing the facilities provide competition that help hold down costs and minimize the state’s up-front costs for construction.

The department now has about 40,135 inmates, including 5,950 in seven private prison units at five sites.

The state’s public facilities house 34,185 inmates in facilities with design capacities totaling 31,259. Additional space is provided by putting two beds in cells designed for one and putting bunks in areas originally intended for uses such as classrooms.

The department revised and re-issued its request for proposals in January following a review prompted by the Kingman escape.

The new request includes detailed provisions on security, including ones requiring both random and scheduled perimeter checks of prisons.

The Kingman escapees were able to avoid the prison’s scheduled perimeter patrol by timing its movements, enabling them to cut through fencing. They had made getaway arrangements with an alleged accomplice by using a telephone tossed into the prison yard, authorities said.

The state has said it wants 2,000 beds available by April 2013 and an additional 3,000 by April 2015. The 5,000-bed expansion program was authorized under a 2009 law.

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