AFSC has called on Arizona’s Attorney General and Secretary of State to cancel a contract for 5,000 private-prison beds and begin an immediate probe into the state’s private-prison industry and how that industry has used political contributions. 

Arizona AFSC staffer Caroline Isaacs and AFSC volunteer Penny Pestle said during a November 8  news conference that AFSC believes – and media investigations show – that private prisons are lobbying lawmakers to pass bills that raise incarceration rates purely for profit, not for the safety of Arizona residents.

"Is it pure coincidence that the people of Arizona now find ourselves here—with a billion-dollar corrections budget, almost a quarter of our prisoners in for-profit facilities, poised to sink millions more of our tax dollars into an industry that recently delivered the most serious and deadly prison break in decades? “ Caroline asked.

 “Or is there some 'unseen hand' at work, guiding our criminal justice policy down the path of expansion and privatization, just as most other states are instead passing bills aimed at reducing their prison populations?"

The call for a probe came after media reports revealed the influence of the for-profit prison industry in Gov. Jan Brewer’s office and suggested that these corporations were behind SB1070, Arizona’s controversial immigration bill. If fully implemented, SB1070 could lead to an increase in the number of immigrants held in Arizona based federal detention facilities, most of which are run by the for-profit Corrections Corporation of America. 

The call also responded to disturbing testimony received at an AFSC-sponsored public hearing in Tucson on October 27, during which experts and researchers, corrections staff, and others testified about the poor safety records, questionable cost savings, and conflicts of interest of for-profit prisons in Arizona.

The press conference also featured remarks from freelance journalist Beau Hodai, whose articles for the magazine In These Times broke the story of the for-profit prison industry's influence in Arizona politics in June of this year.

You can read more in the Arizona Republic, see slides presented at a October 27 public hearing in Tucson, and learn more about issues around private prisons in Arizona on our Cell-Out Arizona blog. This issue was also discussed on the Novemeber 9 Talk of the Nation from NPR.