Last week, buried among the headlines of the Republican National Convention, sandwiched between Clint Eastwood’s conversation with a chair and Governor Brewer’s accidental endorsement of Barack Obama, was an article about the awarding of an additional 1,000 private prison beds to Corrections Corp of America.
Never mind that independent studies have shown private prisons to be costlier than state-run facilities. Never mind that private prisons, including those in Arizona, have had serious safety concerns, including an escape by three prisoners that resulted in the death of an Oklahoma couple. Never mind that the state’s prison population has actually decreased.
Arizona officials justify the additional costs for private prisons by stating that they save money long-term because the state doesn’t need to build new facilities. Except in this case, there are no new facilities that need to be built because CCA is using an existing prison, and the “new” beds will cost more than 30% more than state-run beds, as pointed out by the Arizona Republic.
Spending this type of money on private prisons is even more puzzling when one looks at the growing momentum across the country for prison reform. And this isn’t strictly a Democratic proposal, either.
Three Republican governors have moved toward rehabilitation instead of incarceration. In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie ended jail time for non-violent drug offenders while increasing rehabilitation programs, saying it was a more fiscally responsible and effective way to deal with drug crime.
Here in Arizona, we have many, many other things we should be prioritizing above prisons. Like education. This was today’s headline in the Republic: Arizona 1st in cuts to schools
Hurray! We’re number one!
We now spend almost $800 less per pupil than we did five years ago. Ask your local public school teacher what this means. Visit your local third-grade classroom and see why having 33 students in a room can make discipline more important than teaching.
Say what you will about “throwing money at education” to fix the problem, but the fact is classroom size does make a difference, especially in the elementary years.
It’s true we just faced a devastating economic recession, and yes, this state needed to make spending cuts. But if we can find money in our budget to increase spending on private prisons, how can we say there was no money for education?
A recession is the perfect time to make government reforms that will save money. Why not find those savings in prisons versus education? Other states have shown this is possible, and residents here in Arizona are clearly shouting out for increased education dollars. In fact, many of us are so desperate for education monies that we are willing to increase our sales taxes in order to fund it.
Arizonans value education and are willing to pay for it. How unfortunate that our leaders refuse to find those monies in places other than sales tax referendums. How unfortunate that our leaders choose incarceration over education.