Arizona Lawmaker Slips $900K Into Budget For Private Prison Company


One of the world’s largest private prison corporations already has a $45 million contract with the state of Arizona. But without amending that contract with GEO Group, Inc., a lawmaker financially tied to the prison firm inserted almost another $1 million into the state budget for it.

The House approved the budget with the $900,000 allocation to GEO, a multinational corporation based in Boca Raton, Fla. Yet after a spate of phone calls and emails, the Senate Appropriations Committee removed the funding from its version of the bill, the Arizona Republic reports.

Rep. John Kavanagh (R), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, included extra funding in the budget despite no support from the state’s Department of Corrections, which contracts with GEO. Pivotal Policy Consulting, the lobbying firm that represents GEO, requested the favor. GEO is the top financial contributor for Kavanagh, whose past work includes championing racial profiling in Arizona and criminalizing transgender people.

Caroline Isaacs, program director for the Arizona office of the American Friends Service Committee, monitors private prisons in the state. She called the attempt to include additional funding for GEO a clear violation of the state budgeting process.

“If [private prisons] feel that they’re not making enough money on their contract, then the avenue for them is to go and do a contract amendment, which they have the opportunity to do every year,” Isaacs said. “Instead of doing that, GEO Group sent their lobbyist directly to the money man in the state legislature and said ‘give us [$900,000],’ and he said, ‘OK.’ That is just not how it’s supposed to work.”

The budget is still subject to debate among both the full Senate and House.

Kavanagh claimed GEO had done the state a “big favor” by providing discounted prison facilities during the economic downturn. But a 2012 study of private prisons found that they are costing the state $3.5 million more annually than state-run prisons.

Arizona is one of a number of states in which private prisons keep their beds filled by including “occupancy requirements” akin to quotas in their contracts. For instance, GEO’s contract with Arizona mandates that least 95 percent of beds be filled. GEO and other firms have been held to these occupancy requirements even as records of abuse prompt calls to terminate their contracts, “virtually ensuring the company a profit for operating its prisons,” as the Republic describes it.

GEO, which is traded on the New York Stock Exchange, saw a net revenue of $1.52 billion in 2013, according to the company’s most recent financial report. It has recorded steady profit increases each year since earning $1.08 billion in 2010. GEO touts itself as the “world’s leading provider of correctional, detention, and community reentry services with 98 facilities, approximately 77,000 beds, and 18,000 employees around the globe.” Beyond the United States, GEO has facilities in the United Kingdom, Australia, and South Africa. The prison company’s CEO, George C. Zoley, collected $22 million in compensation between 2008 and 2012.