One benefit for reporters who cover prisons is the fact that there are many areas to dig around that are part of the public record, but dear readers, that kind of transparency doesn't exist where we need it most in Arizona — private prisons.
In Arizona, we tend to bend over for the private prison industry, but not everyone likes to take that kind of love blindfolded. That's why a new piece of legislation is important right now - HB 2203, which requires private prisons to keep the lights on, er, make their records public.
Private prisons are run by corporations, like Corrections Corporation of America, but they are funded by taxpayers. Think Citizens United, and you'll think of this new bill as some much-needed Arizona prophylactic.
"Thus, after four years, CCA is still fighting hard to avoid producing the records I requested, which would have to be produced if I requested them from any public agency," Friedmann tells Pith via email. "This is a perfect example of the lack of transparency and lack of public accountability in the private prison industry."
Of course, it's no surprise why CCA is stalling. Considering CCA's reputation for poor treatment of immigrant detainees, allegations of fraudulent reporting practices, and practically writing Arizona's SB 1070 bill for the legislature, Friedmann's original records request could very well puncture even more holes in CCA's veil of secrecy.
According to the good folks at Tucson's American Friends Service Committee office, the bill’s author, Rep. Chad Campbell (D-14) has introduced a total of six bills that would impose transparency, accountability, and state regulation onto private prisons in Arizona:
HB 2202 Private prisons; prisoner; facility; limits
HB 2203 Private prison contractors; public records
HB 2204 Private prisons; regulation
HB 2205 Auditor General; private prison monitoring
HB 2206 Private prisons; prisoner transfer; prohibition
HB 2299 Private prison study committee
The bills are now traversing that predictable Arizona Legislature path of committees in an effort to prevents them from getting the hearings they deserve and that we need. Rep. Jim Weiers is the chair of the first committee — Commerce. The deadline for bills to be heard in first committee is Feb. 17th. If they don't make it, the bills are dead.
Tell Rep. Weiers to Hear Private Prison Bills!
Email, or fax the Chair of the House Commerce Committee, Rep. Jim Weiers, firstname.lastname@example.org. Toll-free phone number to reach any state representative or senator: 1-800-352-8404. Press #3 for the Senate and #4 for the House. Then just ask the operator to connect you to the office of the person you want to talk to.
Tell Him Private Prisons in Arizona Need Oversight and Accountability Because:
• Prisons are fundamentally about public safety. Our communities should be assured that these facilities are safe, and the public should be notified when there are incidents like escapes or riots.
• Arizona should have the right to tell private prison companies like CCA that they can’t import dangerous or violent offenders from other states.
• Arizona taxpayers are shelling out millions for private prisons every year. We deserve to know what kind of return we’re getting on our investment.
If you need more info before you call, one of the best state resources on the private prison industry is the AFSC's blog Cell-Out-Arizona.