Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009 | 2:07 a.m.
Arizona officials, trying to save money, are on the verge of seeking bids from private prison companies, which would share the job of managing the state’s 40,000 inmates.
The state will likely come to regret passing this critical function on to the private sector.
It is a government responsibility to arrest, charge, try and sentence those who are found guilty of crimes. It follows that it should be the government’s responsibility to oversee those persons sentenced to jail or prison.
Trying to dodge accountability to the public for such responsibilities as jail and prison conditions, security, the training of corrections officers and the treatment of prisoners could end up costing the state more money in the long run.
Hiring a less-accountable private company — on the provision that it spend far less money on all of those jobs than the government is spending — incurs high risk. And it does not, in the end, save money, as has been proven.
In 2001, for example, the Justice Department studied the trend toward private prisons, which began in the early 1980s. It discovered that projected savings never materialized.
Additionally, Nevada’s eight-year experiment with allowing a private company to run the women’s prison in North Las Vegas ended miserably. There were security problems — as there are at a lot of private prisons — and the company failed to meet even minimum standards for inmate health care. The state was forced to take over the facility in 2004.
Arizona has several private prisons that take in felons from other states. A state official told The New York Times that “we are very happy” with their performance. Yet The Arizona Republic last year wrote that the private prisons were virtually unregulated and that an escape by two killers had raised security concerns.
The concerns will surely escalate if private prison companies take over the state prison system, including the buildings housing death-row prisoners. That’s not a job for companies that have a mandate to cut costs.