Arizona puts more of its inmates into privately run prisons every year, even though the prisons may not be so secure as state-run facilities and may not save taxpayers money, reports the Arizona Republic. Lawmakers began using private prisons to ease overcrowding and have supported their use so aggressively that one in five Arizona inmates is housed in a private facility. Many inmates from other states also are housed in private prisons in Arizona, but the state has little information about who they are and limited oversight of how they are secured. The state has 11 privately operated prisons.
An escape of three Arizona inmates last month from a private prison, which spurred a nationwide manhunt and is believed to have resulted in two murders, raises questions about the industry’s growth and the degree of state oversight. The last fugitives in that escape were caught Thursday, and the state has promised changes to the private sites that house Arizona inmates. State leaders have pushed for more privatization and have blocked efforts to regulate the industry, which has invested heavily in local lobbying and contributed to political campaigns. Last year, officials approved a plan to hand over the operation of nearly every state prison to private companies. The plan was repealed after no credible bidder came forward. This year, lawmakers approved 5,000 new private-prison beds for Arizona prisoners. Data suggest that the facilities are less cost-effective than they claim to be.