Private Prisons Good, but Photo Radar Bad?

Now that the Super Bowl is over, brace yourself. While the nation’s luminaries make for Sky Harbor, our leaders remain.

The Arizona Legislature is now officially unleashed.

First sign that the dogs have been let out: Senate Bill 1167. The bill, sponsored by Sens. Kelli Ward and Judy Burges, would outlaw photo enforcement of Arizona’s traffic laws.

No longer could cities use cameras to nab red-light runners or hire private photo radar companies to catch speeders.

The bill will be heard at 9 a.m. Wednesday by the Senate Public Safety, Military and Technology Committee.

According to the bill, the purpose of outlawing photo radar is to “keep the enforcement of the laws in this state in the hands of trained law enforcement officers who are authorized by the people of this state to enforce the laws.”

And, to “protect the citizens of this state from the abuses that accompany the outsourcing of law enforcement to private, for-profit entities.”

Like say, outsourcing prisons to private, for-profit entities?

A pair of committees this week will consider Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposal to build a 3,000-bed medium security prison – one that’s expected to generate tens of millions of dollars annually for the private company that operates it.

It seems as our commitment to public education declines our need for more prison beds rises. (Coincidence?)

Ducey’s private-prison proposal calls for spending at least $100 million over the next three years, according to The Republic’s Craig Harris.

But not to worry, private prison operators assured Harris they aren’t in it for the money.

I mean, really, who would think that?

“The notion that we exist only to make money is not true,” said Issa Arnita, of Management & Training Corp., which operates private prisons in Kingman and Marana. “Our goal is partnering with state and federal governments is to make a social impact in our communities by reducing recidivism and helping those in our facilities get back on their feet again.”

“From overcrowded facilities to skyrocketing taxpayer costs, CCA strives to benefit our communities, our partners and all those entrusted to our care,” said Steve Owen, spokesman for Corrections Corporation of America, which operates a prison near Eloy. “These challenges aren’t solved with politics and posturing.”

Want to know what is solved? Private prison operators’ need to boost profits.

In 2013, Harris reports that CCA nearly doubled its profits to $300 million. The company’s CEO was paid nearly $3.3 million.

From a taxpayer perspective, it would be nice to know if private prisons are actually cheaper to operate than state-run operations.

According to Ducey’s budget, we’re shelling out $5,538 a year to house a new male inmate in an existing state-run prison, but that figure doesn’t include construction or personnel costs. Meanwhile, we’re paying a whopping $23,882 a year to house a medium-security inmate in CCA’s Red Rock Correctional Center.

An apples to apples comparison seems in order. Yet the Legislature in 2012 repealed a law that required the Department of Corrections to conduct a cost comparison.

Curious, don’t you think?


by – Laurie Roberts


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