Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Failure of Oversight

Arizona's Department of Corrections had an employee specifically designated to provide oversight of the operations of the Kingman prison, the facility from which 3 inmates (2 of them convicted murderers) escaped in Juyl, leading to a huge headline-grabbing manhunt.  But it turns out he was so overwhelmed with paperwork that he wasn't able to properly monitor the security or operations of the prison.  He had not even read the contract the state had with MTC to operate the facility in over 14 months on the job.  He knew nothing of the alarm system that had not been maintained in over 2 years since MTC's contract with the vendor expired.  The prison would go months between inspections, which were done so poorly they weren't able to identify the problems that lingered at the prison for years.

Private prison proponents love to point out that the facilities are most often monitored by an employee, or handful of employees, in state governments that ensure contract compliance.  However, it's obvious that simply having a person designated to provide oversight of a private facility is not enough to ensure they will operate according to the contract, or that the company will maintain a safe and humane facility.  But private prison companies continually lobby against increased oversight of their facilities, in both state and federal governments.  They spend millions opposing legislation that would improve the public's access to their records, thereby increasing the amount of oversight on the industry. 

Considering the industry's track record of negligence and abuse, along with repeated failures to ensure compliance with the contracts they enter into at the expense of American taxpayers, private prison companies need to be held accountable to the public.  To borrow from Louis Brandeis, sunlight is the best disinfectant.  It is high time that the contract violations and human rights abuses that take place within the private prison industry are brought out into that light.

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