For-Profit Executions Possible In Arizona

When state of Pennsylvania officials faced crushing budget cuts to the criminal justice system they took drastic steps to rectify the situation.  One measure was to privatize a significant portion of corrections–to hand over operations, management, and control of some of its prisons to private companies, thereby eliminating state and county oversight and responsibility, and ultimately cost for the facilities.

What transpired from this private outsourcing of corrections can only be described as a constitutional nightmare.  In exchange for increasing the number of juvenile offenders ordered to these now privately-run, for profit jails, judges received cash payments and other bribes.  Basic constitutional guarantees of counsel, a fair trial, and humane prison conditions evaporated into a system of corruption, power, and greed.  Pennsylvania officials faced one of the largest federal corruption stings in the history of corrections.

Which is why it is so troubling to read that Arizona is the latest state to consider expanding its corrections outsourcing to encompass every single prison in the state, and, most troubling of all, death row.  As it stands, nearly 30 percent of the state’s prisoners are held in privately-run facilities, but those facilities are generally minimum and medium-security facilities.  Those employees are, at least according to the Department of Justice, inexperienced and unaccustomed to dealing with violent offenders and those serving death sentences.  If the proposed Arizona plan passes, it would make Arizona the first state to outsource death row.

Under the Arizona plan, the State would still oversee executions, but all day-to-day operations would fall in private hands.  The state would pay a per-diem fee for each prisoner held on death row, which raises the specter of reinforcing financial incentives to execute prisoners since not only would the State bear the costs associated with sentencing appeals and executions, it would also pay “rent” to house, feed, and provide medical services for death row inmates.

Proponents of privatizing prisons argue that states already face that economic reality and the private sector manages those maintenance costs more efficiently at significant cost savings to tax-payers.  According to supporters, what the state pays companies to operate these facilities is a fraction of the cost to state and county officials in large part because private entities do not share the same administrative costs associated with oversight and accountability of government entities.  They rarely pay their employees wages and benefits comparable to state-run Department of Corrections employees and face fewer administrative reporting requirements. 

But the most recent survey taken by the Department of Justice found that private prisons saved states little money.  In fact, those states that witnessed significant savings in corrections did so by shutting down facilities and changing sentencing laws.  In some instances, like in California, these changes were mandated by federal courts after a failure to properly fund corrections resulted in conditions deteriorating to the point of threatening the safety of staff and inmates on a daily basis.

Just like we are witnessing with the health care debate, the argument that the private sector always runs at an operational savings when compared to government entities is at best something requiring a second look.  Administrative costs associated with Medicare are about 10% less than private health care entites.  Corrections is no different, and the arguments for privatizing the state’s responsibility to those ordered to its care for rehabilitation and restitution presents even more delicate moral issues to tackle.  If we’ve learned anything from the debacle in Pennsylvania, it is that profit motives always conflict with prisoner care and cannot be reconciled with the Constitution. 

There are simply some things that should remain in the province of the government, and overseeing criminal justice matters is one of them.  It is the only way to assure individual rights are not forgotten, because, as established by the framers, anyone can be labelled a criminal by the state, and the only difference between a democracy and tyranny is how it treats the accused.

photo courtesy of jgurbisz via Flickr


Mervi R.
Mervi R8 years ago

Privatizing is not a good idea...

Walter G.
Walter G8 years ago

An even darker side to this privatizing mess is that a corporation, such as a coal mine, could pick up a prison contract and then use the prisoners for slave labor.

Carole D.
Carole Dunn8 years ago

When will we quit with our privatizing madness? Look at what has happened in Iraq with private contractors, for example. It's an outrage. Look at our health care system. The for-profit health insurance companies and for-profit hospitals are responsible for the runaway prices. Privatized prisons are immoral in my book. It's a sure recipe for cruel and inhuman treatment.

Let's face it folks. We live in a corporate-run oligarchy with a little demented theocracy thrown in. Almost all the most egregious things that go on in this country are linked in some way to the religious right. The immoral CEO of the former Blackwater, now Xe, is as thick as thieves with religious-right nut cases. They are murderers, rapists and heathens, but call themselves "Christian soldiers" on a "crusade."

kurt w.
kurt w8 years ago

Maybe State run prisons in this fashion is a better approach.
Maricopa County was spending approx. $18 million dollars a year on stray animals, like cats and dogs. Sheriff Joe offered to take the department over, and the County Supervisors said okay.

The animal shelters are now all staffed and operated by prisoners. They feed and care for the strays.. Every animal in his care is taken out and walked twice daily. He now has prisoners who are experts in animal nutrition and behavior. They give great classes for anyone who'd like to adopt an animal. He has literally taken stray dogs off the street, given them to the care of prisoners, and had them place in dog shows.
The best part? His budget for the entire department is now under $3 million. Teresa and I adopted a Weimaraner from a Maricopa County shelter two years ago. He was neutered, and current on all shots, in great health, and even had a microchip inserted the day we got him. Cost us $78.
These prisoners get No air conditioning, no tv, food cost are way below most of the other prisons, these people that vommit crimes shouldn't be pampered, some commit crimes just so they can go back to jail, not at this Wardon's jail.
But at the same time if this kind of Jail is privitised by someone like Cheney who we know has has innicent prisoners die, have it run the same way by the state

Nia M.
Nia M8 years ago

Every legislator and the governor of Arizona need to read this article and pay attention to the facts of what will most likely happen if their ridiculous plan goes forward. Great writing!

Pamylle G.
Pamylle G8 years ago

This is very bad news. The death rate for prisoners in private prisons is much, MUCH higher than in those run by the government. To give "contractors" power over executions, unaccountable to laws as they so often are, is a recipe for atrocities.

Dawn W.
Dawn W.8 years ago

I work for a sister agency to Corrections in my state, and I can attest that states could save a whole boatload of money if they were less beholden to the companies with whom they have supply contracts. My state is in a supposed budget crunch, yet two days after announcing that State employees would have to take furlough days, the IT Department came a'knockin' with five brand-new desktop computers for my office. One person works out of my office: me. And I didn't get one of the new computers. They're $1500 dust collectors. They can't afford to pay us, but they can afford new computers. Nice.

As a State employee, this caught my eye:

"[Private companies] rarely pay their employees wages and benefits comparable to state-run Department of Corrections employees ..."

So we save costs by passing more money from the middle class to corporate executives? In my state, Corrections employees don't make a lot anyway. How are we better off if these lower-paid employees make less taxable income and, possibly, require government assistance to make ends meet?

Traffic enforcement is largely privatized. Here is an article discussing how well *that* bright idea is working out:

Or, in a nutshell: privatization equals corruption, no accountability, and higher costs. Who'da thunk introducing a profit motive might result in t

Charlene R.
Charlene Rush8 years ago

I KNEW there was a reason I didn't like Arizona.

James D.
James D8 years ago

Katherine ... Unfortunately, the slavery is here already, in both its traditionally understood forms (think sweat shops and illegal immigrants lured here and then held in slavery) and the new modern look (a new, insidius brand in which a huge part of the population does not earn enough money to live on, many more do have Health Care because it costs too much, and so on). Also, unfortunately, Anarchy is here. If anarchy can be defined as the few running amuck, smashing the dreams, serenity, lives and fortunes of the many by excluding everyone else from having a say, or a stake, or hope in our society, then we live under the Anarchy of Capitalism run wild, in which only the few count for anything other than being meat for the grinder - just like Slaves!

Bruce Anderson
8 years ago

Wherever or whenever a private business operates, they are so doing strictly for monetary gain.

As what happened to the privatized Pennsylvania correctional system along with a few other states, corruption will filter in as it will in states considering, may all forbid, privatizing executions.

It is ludricous to even consider any type of privateization when it comes to the humanities and ethical fortitude of a human's life. Private adoption agencies are also the most corrupt as opposed to those ran by NGO's or the government.

Can't you just see an executional private work for profit industry hinting to a judge that they've had a dry spell in injecting the needle or pulling the plug, badgering him for a tad more condemned verdicts.

Some places, capitalism is not a wise idea and I think most would agree that the penal system is but one of those places better served by a government entity.