Thursday, November 4, 2010

Misplaced Priorities, Wasteful Spending

Private prisons are often touted by supporters as being more cost-efficient alternatives to government-run prisons.  They fail to mention how those cost savings are realized, namely through under-training staff, short-staffing facilities, and cutting corners on things like medical care, security, and maintenance.  But it turns out in Arizona that, despite the private prison industry employing all these tactics, they still cost more per prisoner than state-run facilities.

Significantly more so, in fact.  It costs Arizona about $7.70 per inmate, per day MORE to house their incarcerated population in private facilities, amounting to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars in wasteful spending.  Arizona spends more than ten percent of its budget incarcerating people; more than it spends on funding for higher education.

This is the second such study in Arizona within the past year or so that has found private prisons to be more expensive than state-run ones, in addition to various studies in other states. Unfortunately for Arizonans, Governor Jan Brewer and the state legislature have already demonstrated their affinity for the private corrections industry, as has been reported on extensively in the past.  Governor Brewer has hired former and current CCA lobbyists to her staff, while state Senator Russel Pearce introduced SB1070, Arizona's "Breathing While Brown" law, which NPR showed to be a product of CCA's influence through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). 

After getting the bill introduced, the private prison industry in Arizona went to work, donating thousands of dollars to state legislators to ensure it would be passed.  Unfortunately for Arizona taxpayers, they were successful.  Now, the nation's most racist and draconian immigration statute will help funnel an ever-increasing number of illegal immigrants (nonviolent offenders) into private prisons.  The same private prisons that the state has found repeatedly to cost MORE than government-run facilities.  Facilities that are operated by companies that engage in the sanctioned bribing of politicians, companies who have for years been working to pass harsh criminal sentences, mostly against nonviolent offenders, all across the country.

So despite audits that dispel the common myth of cost savings, and with clear evidence of the abuse, negligence, and cost-cutting inherent to the industry, the private prison industry continues to thrive.  It does so by wooing conservative politicians with promises of savings that never materialize.  It's a shame that these sorts of politicians, who rail against pork and wasteful spending, are seemingly incapable of even seeing this inefficient and disgraceful situation in Arizona.

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