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Feds pull away from private prisons: What it means for Arizona

(Brian Corn/The Wichita Eagle via AP)

First a scathing report on private prisons followed by Thursday’s announcement that the Department of Justice plans to stop using them.

Does this signal the end for the six for-profit prisons in Arizona?

“I am certainly hoping that it is,” said Caroline Isaacs with the American Friends Service Committee.

The problem is private prisons were largely a government answer for over-crowding of prisons at both the federal and state level, Isaacs said.

“We’re pretty much stuck with that,” she added. “And even in cases of horrendous abuses and problems, where else would we go with our incarcerated population?”

That’s why the DOJ’s model is very instructive, Isaacs said. It’s not throwing open the doors tomorrow, but it’s saying the country is going to phase the current private prison contracts out and not sign new ones.

“This is an opportunity for the state of Arizona, and for every state, to really re-examine their incarceration policies in a systemic way,” she said. “And to say, ‘Do we need to be incarcerating people at the rate that we are?’ ”

The argument over whether private prisons are good or bad has been going on for some time.

Adrian Moore with the Reason Foundation says neither the feds nor states are going to want the problems that come with reorganizing all the inmates that are currently in for-profit prisons.

“And I actually predict that once they see how difficult that it is and how little benefit it has, they may very well change their mind,” he said.

The contracts with these companies are still good, Moore said, and the only way to end the contract amicably is if someone actually violates the contract.

“I think the Department of Justice is making a huge mistake by ending these contracts with private companies,” he said. “It’s going to increase their costs, it’s going to reduce their flexibility and their ability to provide safe and just incarceration of folks.

“It looks more like a political move than something that’s actually designed to improve the system.”

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