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Victory! Pima County Passes Historic Resolution Against Use of Private Jails

Today, the Pima County (Tucson), Arizona Board of Supervisors passed a historic resolution to prohibit contracting with private, for-profit prison companies like GEO Group or Core Civic (formerly CCA) for jail operations.

The American Friends Service Committee – Arizona (AFSC-AZ) welcomes this positive step forward. As states increasingly take steps to reduce prison populations, private prison companies are looking to make up lost revenues by exploiting other aspects of the incarceration industry, such as local jail management, halfway houses, and even “alternatives to incarceration,” like electronic monitoring.

The move in Tucson is in stark contrast to a recent contract that the City of Mesa, AZ signed with CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America, CCA) to house their jail detainees. Despite widespread and vocal community opposition, the Mesa City Council voted to approve the contract, citing promised cost savings. But critics argue that the leadership in Mesa did not do their “due diligence” on the company, and that a simple Google search would reveal widespread problems in their facilities.

For-profit prison corporations like CoreCivic rarely manage jails. Of the 47 facilities they own and/or manage, only five are jails. Two of the five are proposed or in the process of contract cancellation, including the Washington, DC jail and the Marion County Jail in Indiana. The DC jail is being transitioned back to public management after a damning report by the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs revealed serious issues, including “alarming” physical conditions, overcharging, and inadequate training for staff.

Jail populations are fundamentally different from prisons. Jails are administered at the County or municipal level and house a significant population of pre-trail detainees—people who are awaiting trial and, therefore, have not yet been convicted of a crime.

 Fortunately, the leadership of Pima County chose to prioritize the well-being and safety of all of its residents, even those who have been accused of breaking the law. The resolution sends a strong message that Pima County values its people and the integrity of local government over promises of cheaper jails.

“Big for-profit corporations operate on the cheap by cutting correctional officers and other corners, which reduces public safety and creates costs we still must pay,” said Pima County Supervisor Richard Elías, sponsor of the Resolution.

AFSC-AZ hopes that this action will spur dialogue among other cities and towns about the trends in private prison companies seeking such contracts and the potential tradeoffs between promised cost savings and mismanaged, unsafe, or unconstitutional facilities.


AFSC-AZ Research Joe Watson, District 3 Supervisor Sharon Bronson, AFSC-AZ Director Caroline Isaacs, and District 5 Supervisor Richard Elías

Want to know more about the dangers of for-profit incarceration?

AFSC-AZ Report – Private Prisons: The Public’s Problem, 2011

Morrison Institute – White Paper on Prison Privatization in Arizona

AFSC-AZ Report – The Treatment Industrial Complex: How For-Profit Prison Corporations are Undermining Efforts to Treat and. Rehabilitate Prisoners for Corporate Gain 

Arizona further invests public retirement in Private Prisons

The American Friends Service Committee has long been opposed to Arizona’s deep financial involvement in the for-profit private prison industry. Fundamentally, that is because we believe that incarceration for profit is immoral. But we also know that these corporations are profoundly mismanaged, negligent, and do not deliver the cost savings they promise to taxpayers.

That is why we were deeply disturbed to learn that the Arizona State Retirement System (ASRS) just increased its shares in CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), the largest for-profit prison company in the US.

During the second quarter, the ASRS “raised its position in shares of Corrections Corp. of America (NYSE:CXW) by 1.8% during the second quarter, according to its most recent filing with the SEC. The fund owned 49,800 shares of the real estate investment trust’s stock after buying an additional 900 shares during the period. Arizona State Retirement System’s holdings in Corrections Corp. of America were worth $1,373,000 at the end of the most recent quarter.”

The ASRS is the government-run retirement system whose membership includes employees of the State of Arizona, the three state universities, community college districts, school districts and charter schools, all 15 counties, most cities and towns, and a variety of special districts. A total of 205,162 members around the State.

In 2017, the State of Arizona spent approximately $168,617,100 of general fund dollars on private prison contracts. As of the latest Department of Corrections report, Arizona currently has 5 contracts that account for roughly 14% of the Department of Corrections’ $1 billion budget.

As the state’s corrections budget has grown, it has siphoned off general fund dollars from other critical agencies and programs. Ironically, some of those who have lost the most in state funding are the very same whose retirement is now invested in this predatory industry. For example, the Grand Canyon Institute reported that Arizona spends 60% more on prisons than on state colleges and universities. Yet, the retirement funds for those professors are now tied up in the corporation that arguably benefitted from the drastic reduction in state funding for higher education.

It is also worth noting that two former members of the Arizona Board of Regents were also serving on the Board of Directors of what was then Corrections Corporation of America (now CoreCivic). Former Arizona Senator Dennis DiConcini came under public pressure to resign from the Board from immigrant rights advocates and others (including AFSC) for his willingness to accept huge stock dividends from a corporation that was detaining thousands of immigrants in Arizona and elsewhere. He later resigned from the Board of CCA.

Another former ABOR member, Anne Mariucci, is currently listed as “Independent Director” at Corrections Corp. of America. She remains on the Board of Directors at Corrections Corp. of America, as well as Southwest Gas Corp., Arizona State University Foundation, Banner Health System, Inc., Fresh Start Women’s Foundation and The University of Arizona Health Network. Notably, she served previously as the Director of the Arizona State Retirement System.

CoreCivic is also the largest employer in Pinal County, where it operates a total of 6 facilities. In addition to contracts for incarceration of Arizona state prisoners and Mesa Jail detainees, the company also imports prisoners from California, Vermont, and Hawaii, as well as thousands of immigrant detainees from ICE and the US Marshals.

The corporation is moving aggressively into other areas of Arizona’s criminal justice system, including the recent privatization of the Mesa jail and the acquisition of New Beginnings Treatment Center, Inc, a residential reentry center in Tucson that holds a contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

A closer look at the ASRS’s holdings reveals that it is also invested in the nation’s second largest for-profit prison corporation, GEO Group. In fact, as of August 2, 2017, ASRS had 52,450 shares in the company–more than its recent increased investment in CoreCivic. GEO Group also holds contracts with the Arizona Department of Corrections for Florence West and Phoenix West.

You can read the full list of the Arizona State Retirement System’s investments here.

AFSC has long advocated for divestment from private prisons as a strategy that both individuals and institutions can use to help end for-profit incarceration. The organization even has a website that allows people to scan their investments to find out if any of their holdings are involved in prison profiteering:

Reframing Justice: What No One Wants To Hear

While I was incarcerated at Marana State Prison, another inmate gave me a poem she wrote called “What No One Wants to Hear”.  *It’s a pretty heavy poem- it captures a lot of the emotion of being incarcerated- anger, sadness, isolation, and inhumanity.

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Handwritten poem “What One Wants to Hear”

I had been in and out of the system starting at the age of 26, each time as a consequence of my addiction to cocaine and crack.  When I first read the poem I felt its truth.  It illustrates how we feel as formerly incarcerated people as we try to enter back into society, and describes how others see us.

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Michele and her mother, Shirley

When I got out this last time, what I found most challenging was that I had no family support. My mom had passed away in 2004, which was my breaking point in life.  I say “her death brought me life” because her death helped me to pursue sobriety. For a long time, my life in Arizona was about doing/selling drugs.  I say “her death brought me life” because her death helped me to pursue sobriety. For a long time, my life in Arizona was about doing/selling drugs.  That was actually a barrier to re-entry for me- I didn’t have a community of support to return to when I got out.  Ultimately, what helped me overcome and rebuild my life was the support and resources I gained from the counselors in the Women in Recovery program I attended at Southern Arizona Correctional Release Center, which no longer exists.

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