Arizona officials soon will seek bids from private companies for 9 of the state's 10 prison complexes that house 40,000 inmates, including the 127 on death row, reports the New York Times. The state could become the first to put its entire prison system under private control. The privatization effort demonstrates what states overburdened with prisoners and their associated costs may be willing to do to balance the books. Arizona hopes to put a $100 million dent in a $2 billion budget shortfall.
Private prison companies build facilities for a state, then charge them per prisoner to run them. In Arizona, however, a vendor would pay $100 million up front to operate one or more prison complexes. Assuming the company could operate the prisons more cheaply or efficiently than the state, any savings would be equally divided between the state and the private firm. The move raises questions about the private sector's ability to handle the state's most hardened criminals. While executions would still be performed by the state, the corrections department would relinquish all other day-to-day operations to the private operator and pay a per-diem fee for each prisoner.