The American Friends Service Committee of Arizona, a leading watchdog and opponent of for-profit incarceration in Arizona and nationwide, has condemned the decision of the Mesa City Council last night to enter into a contract with CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).
“We would like to thank Mayor and Council for their openness to hearing the deep concerns of their residents and those of surrounding communities. But we are dismayed that Mesa’s elected leaders chose to vote against the clear wishes of the majority of their constituents,” said Emily Verdugo, Program Coordinator with AFSC.
The standing-room only crowd expressed audible frustration and anger when Mayor Giles characterized the movement to privatize as “jail reform”: Mesa’s answer to the years of a substandard Maricopa County jail system under Joe Arpaio.
Caroline Isaacs, AFSC Program Director, summed up the problem with this analogy: “If a group of employees complained about low wages or unsafe working conditions and the company sent their jobs overseas, you certainly wouldn’t call that ‘workplace reform,’ she said.
The two Councilmembers who voted against the proposal—Vice Mayor David Luna and Councilmember Jeremy Whittaker—both pointed out that the City of Mesa had not done enough to explore solutions with the current Maricopa County Board of Supervisors or Maricopa county Sheriff Paul Penzone. They, and many members of the public, noted that the decision to privatize had been suddenly fast-tracked, leaving little time for a critical assessment of alternatives.
AFSC-AZ’s Verdugo warns that the City’s decision to privatize their jail operations will open the door to further privatization of public safety in Maricopa County. “When Mesa pulls its money out of Maricopa County jail, it will undoubtedly pass that cost onto other Maricopa County cities that also contract with MCSO. This will either push cities to follow Mesa and privatize their jail operations, or push MCSO to have to privatize. Either option is irresponsible for the taxpayers of Maricopa County from a fiscal perspective, but also undermines local control of a critical public safety responsibility of government.”
The AFSC-AZ calls upon the Mayor to hold off on signing the contract with CoreCivic and instead convene stakeholder groups to explore alternative approaches that would address the complaints of the City while maintaining local control of this critical government function.