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For-Profit Punishment

According to at least one inmate, an Arizona private prison is out of control

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Joyce Clayton's son has another year left in prison, but she worries that he won't return home alive.

She gingerly pulls out a recent letter and a copy of an Arizona Department of Corrections request that her son made on Nov. 21 to transfer to a different prison.

"Since they had the riot up there, he feels he has to sleep with one eye open and one eye closed," Joyce says. "He fears for his life."

Her son, Oralee Clayton, is finishing his two-year sentence for drug possession at a private prison in Kingman—the same prison from which three convicted murderers escaped in July. He's told friends and family that race plays a big part in how he feels in Kingman. An African American, Oralee Clayton wants to be moved to a regular public prison.

"When they had the riot, the whites said they were going to kill the niggers up there. That's what it's like when you have 1,000 whites and only 120 blacks. It is nerve-wracking. I just keep praying that everything goes well," Joyce says.

The Kingman facility is run by Management and Training Corporation. The summer prison escape led to increased public scrutiny of both private prisons in Arizona and the state government's growing interest in using private facilities to house a growing inmate population.

MTC operates 20 other private prisons in seven states. Besides Kingman, the company has a second facility in Arizona, the Marana Community Correctional Treatment Facility at 12610 W. Silverbell Road.

On Clayton's transfer request and in another letter to a friend, he said he was concerned because "there is only one MTC guard working dorms for 200 inmates."

He outlines several incidents that have taken place since the spring. According to his transfer request, on May 5, there was a riot that guards were unable to control. In October, inmates refused lockdown and demanded that three inmates be released from solitary. On Nov. 4, inmates threw rocks at guards and ran them off the yard. The guards were not permitted back "until they negotiated with the heads of each race."

"I'm just trying to do my time and go home," wrote Clayton. "I have written my family and let them know that MTC is not trained properly in defusing problems and are not giving us proper security and safety."

Oralee's concerns are shared by activists against private prisons, including the local chapter of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), which held public hearings in October in Tucson and Kingman to collect information from the public and ask questions that some feel the state has yet to ask since the Kingman escape—which led to the alleged murder of an elderly couple by the escapees.

According to reports, the three inmates who escaped from the Kingman facility got past locked doors, surveillance cameras, ground and fence sensors, guard towers and group patrol before cutting a hole in perimeter fencing. An investigation determined that part of the reason this occurred was due to faulty alarms which the guards often ignored.

The Tucson Weekly called MTC's corporate office and the administration office in Kingman for comment on Clayton's transfer requests and allegations. While no MTC corporate representative returned our calls as of our press time, Kingman complex administrator Jerry Sternes did call back.

Sternes says all transfer requests are handled by Arizona DOC. He is not aware of Clayton's requests or safety concerns or any of the altercations that took place.

"If an inmate makes us aware of safety issues there is an investigation," and recommendations are made. Usually transfer requests are dependent on bed space, Sternes says.

Sternes disagreed with Clayton's concerns regarding safety, because there are 500 officers employed by the complex overseeing a current inmate population of less than 2,500. The complex has the capacity for 3,500 inmates.

Barrett Marson, a spokesperson for the Arizona DOC, says that the DOC tries to accommodate inmate requests for transfers, although inmates are not allowed to choose where they go. There is also a policy in place that says an inmate can be moved if they fear for their safety. However, Marson was not aware of transfer requests from Clayton or other inmates.

The next move for private prisons in Arizona is a state request for proposals (RFP) for a possible 5,000-bed private facility, which is expected to be posted on the DOC website soon.

In September, the Tucson Weekly reported that the DOC withdrew a 5,000-bed RFP due to security concerns brought up by the inmate escape in Kingman. The latest RFP is expected to have new requirements that ensure bidders, like MTC or Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), meet security and operational requirements.

Marson says he understands that the RFP draft has received favorable reviews from DOC administrators, but he does not know what changes are in the RFP and won't know until it is posted.

According to Caroline Isaacs, the AFSC Tucson director, the organization wants the state to permanently cancel the RFP for 5,000 new private beds and impose an immediate moratorium on all new-prison construction.

The organization's white paper on prison privatization in Arizona outlines other proposed changes, including state legislation that "enacts strict oversight and reporting requirements for all private prisons located in or contracted with the state of Arizona." Some of those proposed requirements would mandate that privately operated prisons make annual budgets public; that private prisons report all assaults, disturbances, deaths and hospitalizations; and that all Arizona prisons report their recidivism rate annually.

Property in southeast Tucson on Wilmot Road is still identified for a future CCA private prison development. In June, the Pima County Board of Supervisors approved a zoning change to allow a private prison, and in early November, the supervisors approved a development agreement for CCA. In both votes, the only dissenting vote came from Supervisor Richard Elías, who has consistently been a vocal opponent of private prisons.

Pima County Development Services Director Carmine DeBonis says the CCA plan will need further review from his department, but no other approval or input from the supervisors.

If the contract is awarded, then CCA must present the county with a detailed site and development plan. CCA representatives have told supervisors that if CCA isn't awarded a state contract, it will likely move forward with prison construction and accept prisoners from other states.

DeBonis says his department has been told the company is seeking the state contract, but because the land is zoned to allow for private-prison use, it is "conceivable that if CCA so desired, they could move forward and build a private prison as long as they go through the county-permitting process."

However, if that happens, DeBonis says, CCA will have to face a new public-hearing process.

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