Friday, February 01, 2008
Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano Wants Restraints On Her State's Private Prison Industry; Changes May Cost Alaska $250,000
After five years in office, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano (pictured at left) has suddenly and opportunistically decided she has too many out-of-state prisoners in her state, and she's applying executive muscle behind a bill designed to place restrictions on the number and type of out-of-state prisoners housed in the state. The legislation, SB1142, is sponsored by Arizona State Senator Robert Blendu (R-Litchfield Park), and would apply to private prison operators. Full story published in the Arizona Republic and aired on KTUU Channel 2 in Anchorage.
Under Arizona Senate Bill 1142, private prisons in Arizona would:
• Have to comply with capacity and construction standards.
• Immediately notify the state Department of Corrections about any major incident at a prison and allow state officials to investigate the incident and inspect the facility.
• Not be allowed to house inmates who are classified as maximum custody, were convicted of a sexual offense or any offense that would be a Class 1 or 2 felony in Arizona (such as murder), have a history of escape or rioting or are infected with HIV, hepatitis or tuberculosis.
• Not be allowed to release another state's inmates in Arizona.
• Have to provide the Department of Corrections with more information on each inmate, such as convictions.
• Face penalties for not complying with the law.
Over 9,000 prisoners housed in 11 separate facilities in Arizona are potentially affected.
The reason this could be a problem for Alaska is that there is no retroactivity or grandfathering. Alaska prisoners currently housed in Arizona who do not meet the new criteria would have to be returned to Alaska, although Alaska would be free to substitute inmates who do meet the criteria. All Arizona-based Alaska prisoners are housed at the Red Rock Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona, which is operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).
On the 5:00 P.M. News, KTUU Channel 2 News Director John Tracy reported that out of 850 Alaska prisoners currently housed in Arizona, 125 of them would not meet that state's new criteria, and would have to be repatriated. If we don't already have bed space for them, we would have to send 125 qualifying prisoners down to Arizona to open up bed space for the returnees in one of our 12 in-state facilities. It costs approximately $1,000 to transport an Alaska prisoner to or from Arizona one-way. This means that if a maximum of 250 prisoners are involved, it could cost Alaska up to $250,000 to comply with Arizona SB1142, if it passes. And it is because of transport costs that Alaska sends its most dangerous prisoners with the longest sentences to Arizona; we don't have to spend money to bring them back so soon.
Alaska's average daily inmate population in all facilities (including Red Rock), averaged around 5,000 in 2006. Trends indicate it could be as high as 5,200 by now, but no current figures could be found.
And why did Governor Napolitano suddenly become interested in this problem after five years in office? Back in September 2007, brandishing a fake gun and using ladders stolen from a maintenance building, two convicted killers climbed onto the roof and over the walls of a private prison in Florence. They navigated through several lines of razor wire and outmaneuvered security patrols, escaping to freedom. While one was caught within hours, it was nearly a month before the other was caught, hundreds of miles away in his home state of Washington.
And just today (February 1st), KOLD Channel 13 in Tucson reported that three inmates were injured in a fight that broke out at the Federal Corrections Institution in Tucson. None of the injuries are considered life-threatening, but officials are still investigating the cause of the disturbance.
Alaska Corrections Commissioner Joe Schmidt did not seem to be surprised or upset; he acted as if they've been expecting it. The fact that construction on a new state prison at Point Mackenzie, just across the Knik Arm from Anchorage, is scheduled to begin this summer mitigates the concern somewhat. The proposed prison, expected to hold 1,536 inmates, is scheduled to open by 2011, and would permit us to repatriate all Alaska inmates currently housed in Arizona.
According to the most recent report from the Anchorage Daily News, the current plan calls for the Mat-Su Borough to pay for construction by selling revenue bonds. The state would then lease the building from the borough and operate the prison. The facility is expected to cost about $250 million and employ about 350 people. In addition, as an extra safety valve, Schmidt is also working with Bethel and Seward on plans for smaller prison expansion projects in those communities.
Commentary: Janet Napolitano has been Governor of Arizona for five years. Why did she suddenly decide now that the issue of out-of-state prisoners was a problem? Didn't the private prison contractors donate enough to her 2006 re-election campaign? It seems like a state governor would have been on top of a situation like this long before now. This smells like opportunism on her part.
Governor Napolitano is a product of the elite. She's presented as a poster child for what a "modern woman" should be. But there are those on both the right and the left who despise her. Arizona posters on the Phxnews.com website despise her. She was rumoured to be a carpet-muncher at one time, which she finally denied.
Most recently, Napolitano turned down a $1 million Federal grant for abstinence education, claiming that abstinence education "doesn't work". This tells you where her head's at.
But the real embarassment here is that we Alaskans allowed ourselves to get into the predicament of exporting our prisoners. This was because we're too cheap to spend our money on infrastructure, and when we try to build anything, we allow locals to play the NIMBY card and hold us emotionally hostage to their petty idiosyncracies. There tends to be a disturbing lack of social responsibility in this state from time to time. Perhaps if we lavished the same loving care and attention upon our infrastructure that we do upon our wildlife and our PFD checks, we would solve these problems.