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Time to ask tough questions


2012-08-30 : Arizona's elephant in the living room is also eating everything in the kitchen.  Our governor's campaign manager is also a lobbyist for private prison corporations who are getting a bigger and bigger slice of the public pie.  Prison expenditures are now 40% higher than spending on universities.  Our legislature rejects proven methods in use in other states that the Grand Canyon Institute estimates would save us between $30 million to $73 million per year on prison spending. And adding insult to injury, in the latest budget the legislature removed the requirement that private prisons save us money.

Now, when candidates are running for office, is probably our best chance in the next two years to ask some hard questions.

Questions to ask legislative candidates:

1) Arizona is in a budget crisis.  Schools are being closed, college tuition keeps being raised.   Only the prison budget keeps going up, even though the prison population has stabilized.  Now here's a study that says we could save 35-70M a year by implementing an earned release program that allows prisoners to earn by their behaviour, the ability to enter drug rehabilitation programs and other probation programs, and get outside the prison where they are costing us $21K/year each.  The intensive rehab on probation costs only $1-7K/year and its been shown to work better to reduce recidivism.  This works in other states, why is it not being done in Arizona?

(back up fact: Arizona is the ONLY state out of 50 states to require that all nonviolent offenders serve at least 85% of their sentence behind bars, regardless of their behavior.  Other states did NOT see higher crime rates when implementing earned release programs.)

2) The prison budget is huge, bigger than the university budget.  And a lot of it is being paid to private prison corporations.  This was originally supposed to be a way to save money.  But now in the latest budget, it comes out that the legislature removed the requirement that private prisons be more cost effective than public ones!  So this is just a big giveaway to a bunch of private corporations?!  If you voted for the budget, how can you possibly justify that decision?  And if not, what is your response?

3) In a capitalist system, we expect excellence due to competition.  However the profit incentives for private prisons are the opposite of what we as a society want: the more prisoners, and the longer they stay behind bars, the more revenue for the prison corporations.  In the current system, there appears to be no incentive for rehabilitation.  And we also have private prison corporations lobbying for stricter laws, Corrections Corporation of America spends over a million dollars a year lobbying.  We have high officials in Arizona who have ties to CCA, like Chuck Coughlin, Brewer's campaign manager, policy advisor and CCA lobbyist.  How do you see this system working and is there a way to fix it that leads to prisoners being rehabilitated and the state saving money?

4) Finally, transparency.  The budget negotiations that resulted in these sweet deals were done behind closed doors.  Organizations that track prison conditions find it very difficult to get information about how the private prisons housing millions of Arizonans are being run.  What is your stand on government transparency, specifically what about opening budget negotiations to public comment or providing some record of the discussions?  What about requirements for reporting and transparency for private corporations that are taking government money as a primary revenue source?

Grand Canyon Institute has a detailed analysis of prison spending and the potential for savings from an earned release program:

Cell-out Arizona reported on the budget item that removed the audit and cost-effectiveness requirements from private prisons:

Open Secrets tracks lobbying dollars:

Government Security News on Brewer's CCA ties

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