At 6:00 p.m. on the Friday before Labor Day weekend, Arizona officials announced the granting of a multi-million dollar contract to Corrections Corporation of America, a private prison giant, for the operation of one thousand medium security prison beds. The grant was not exactly a big surprise; CCA had hired as lobbyists people close to Gov. Jan Brewer.
What should be more surprising is that officials are arguing with a straight face that the deal is good for taxpayers, in spite of evidence to the contrary. As the Arizona Republic reported,
The contract calls for CCA to be paid a per diem rate of $65.43 per bed. The most recent information available shows the average daily cost per inmate in a state-run medium-custody facility in 2010 was $48.42. The award to CCA is 35percent more than what it cost the state to house and monitor inmates two years ago.
Unfortunately for taxpayers, Arizona officials have repeatedly demonstrated their willingness to tap taxpayers in order to advance an anti-government ideology and boost the profits of a company that is generous with its spending on lobbying and campaign contributions.
People For the American Way Foundation’s recent report “Predatory Privatization” noted that private prisons in Arizona cost the state as much as $7 million more in 2009 and 2010 than units operated by the state department of corrections. The report also noted CCA’s aggressive expansion plans:
Earlier this year, CCA wrote to officials in 48 states offering to buy and run prisons if states would guarantee a 90 percent occupancy rate. A coalition of religious groups urged state officials to turn down the offer, which the groups said would create an incentive for mass incarceration and “be costly to the moral strength of your state” as well as costly financially.
Last week, People For the American Way Foundation launched a new report, “12 Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics,” which offers guidelines for policymakers and advocates seeking to bring faith into political debates.
Joining us at a launch party for the report and a discussion of the issues it raises were Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim in Congress; Sister Simone Campbell, director of the Catholic social justice group NETWORK; and Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
Here are some photos of the event from People For Foundation’s Dylan Hewitt:
Sister Simone Campbell talks with People For’s COO, Nick Ucci
People For President Michael Keegan, Rep. Keith Ellison, and Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery
Michael Keegan and Rep. Keith Ellison
Sister Simone Campbell and Rabbi David Saperstein
Rabbi David Saperstein
Rep. Keith Ellison and Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, director of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Conference.