- Associated Press - Monday, July 13, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - An Arizona sheriffs’ group says private prisons have the advantage when it comes to bidding for inmate housing contracts.

The complaint from all 15 elected sheriffs comes ahead of the state’s July 22 opening of an application process to house 1,000 medium-security inmates, the Arizona Republic reported (https://bit.ly/1K1e9pO ). The beds are needed to handle anticipated growth in the overall prison population.

Plans to house another 1,000 next year require legislative approval.

Gov. Doug Ducey started letting counties compete for these contracts in March. Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato says the governor is considering the issues raised by the association, and that the state would like to be accommodating.

He said the state isn’t trying to exclude counties from the bidding process.



In a letter to the governor’s office, the Arizona Sheriffs Association says the application process favors private prisons by asking counties to shoulder unreasonable financial risks, like medical costs for inmates.

Private prisons take healthier inmates, while counties can possibly house prisoners with mental health conditions and chronic illnesses.

Navajo County Sheriff K.C. Clark says the application sets counties up for failure, and yet many of the requirements in the 179-page form are waived when inmates need emergency housing.

The association asks that the state continue waiving these kinds of requirements when awarding contracts to counties.

Counties are also being asked to allow the Department of Corrections to have a say in hiring leadership roles at the jails, which the letter calls “an infringement of the authority of the counties and the elected Sheriff.”

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu’s jail accepted 380 inmates from the state prison in Kingman after a riot early this month. As the association’s vice president, he co-signed the letter.

He said the counties want a fair opportunity to compete, but that it doesn’t look like that will happen.

“We are the first people they are calling, and we are happy to help,” Babeu said. “We are certainly good enough in a state of emergency.”

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This story has been corrected to show that the new beds are to handle population growth, not inmates moved after a riot at the state prison in Kingman.

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Information from: The Arizona Republic, https://www.azcentral.com

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