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Arizona's Private Prisons Won't Be Impacted By DOJ Policy Change

The U.S. Department of Justice’s announced plans on Thursday to phase out contracts with private prisons, citing concerns over safety and security. Though Arizona has 11 privately operated prisons and detention facilities, none of their contracts are expected to be impacted by Thursday’s announcement.

The Department of Justice’s policy change pertains to contracts with 13 privately run Federal Bureau of Prisons facilities, all of which are outside Arizona. In an August 18 memo, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates directed the Federal Bureau of Prisons to decline to renew or reduce in scope its contracts with privately operated prisons.

The memo came after a critical report by the Department of Justice’s Inspector General that found privately run facilities had more safety and security issues than those run by the government.

Three corporations that run Bureau of Prisons facilities, Geo Group, Corrections Corporation of America and Management and Training Corporation, also run facilities in Arizona.

Those 11 facilities in Arizona include a mix of private prisons contracted by the Arizona Department of Corrections to house Arizona prisoners, as well as facilities contracted by other states, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Marshals Service.

Caroline Isaacs of the American Friends Service Committee Tucson office has been advocating against for-profit prisons for years and wants to see them phased out in Arizona, too.

“This is a great opportunity for our leadership to take a look at our entire criminal punishment system and determine is it working? Is it making us safer?” Isaacs said.

The Arizona Department of Corrections declined to comment on the Justice Department plan to phase out Bureau of Prisons private prison contracts.

Following news of the announcement, stock for the private prison companies Geo Group and Corrections Corporation of America, also known as CCA, fell sharply. Geo Group operates four facilities in Arizona and CCA operates six.

“That is something that Arizona should pay attention to because if we have contracts with these companies and they are now on shaky financial ground, what might that mean for the facilities under contract here?” Isaacs said.

In response to a query about the Justice Department’s memo, Corrections Corporation of America spokesman Jonathan Burns wrote in a statement that the Bureau of Prisons contracts only represent 7 percent of his company’s business. He said CCA will continue to meet the evolving needs of its partners.

“For example, our real estate-only solution helps government deliver needed facility space in a cost-effective manner while providing its own staffing and management services,” Burns wrote. “We’ve also greatly expanded our residential re-entry offerings, which help inmates prepare to successfully return to their communities.”

Burns also disputed the findings of the Inspector General’s report.

Jude Joffe-Block was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2010 to 2017.