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Days Of Rioting Showcase Arizona’s Private Prison Failures

CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK
CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

Correctional officers equipped with rifles, tear-gas equipment and batons were instructed to guard Arizona State Prison-Kingman Sunday morning, following a spate of riots that left seven inmates and nine prison staffers injured last week. The root cause of the riots has not been determined, but the violent outbreak — which resulted in the relocation of more than 1,000 inmates — is yet another snafu at the controversial, privately-owned prison.

Violence first erupted last Wednesday in a minimum-security unit, after corrections officers tried to stop a group of inmates from hurting another prisoner. Arizona Department of Corrections spokesman Andrew Wilder reported six officers were injured. The next day, a second and seemingly-unrelated riot broke out in the Hualapai Unit, a medium-security section of the prison. According to the Management & Training Corp, the private company that owns and operates the prison, inmates were “non-compliant and caused significant damage.” Disturbances in three more Hualapai housing units occurred two days later.

On Sunday, in response to the chaos, corrections staff dressed in military garb patrolled the facility while law enforcement officers were stationed around the prison to ensure people didn’t escape. And 1,055 inmates have been relocated to outside facilities due to housing unit damage.

Gov. Doug Ducey asked for an investigation into the latest incident, but this is by no means the first chaotic event to occur at Kingman. In fact, MTC mismanagement has been a problem for more than a decade. In January, an inmate at the Arizona facility was murdered. Last year, an inmate died after he was beaten and sexually assaulted. Nearly five years ago, three inmates escaped from Kingman and killed a couple in New Mexico.

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Similar incidents have occurred in other MTC-run prisons. For example, riots at a separate facility in California left two inmates dead in 2003, after which an investigation concluded understaffing and poor training were responsible. Texas terminated its MTC contract after inmates rioted in protest of abusive treatment and deplorable living conditions.

“This is clearly a management issue. If I had to wager, most of the problems in for-profit prisons are related to staffing, and most staffs are new, undertrained and they don’t pay their guards well,” private prison critic Caroline Isaacs told AZ Central. “This is a critical time for the state’s leadership to stop and take a very good, long, hard look at what we are doing in corrections in this state.”

Indeed, inadequate staffing and poor training in for-profit prisons is a problem nationwide. Corporate-owned prisons and privately-contracted service providers are linked to food contamination, gross medical neglect, and poor sanitation.

The primary reason states cite for entering prison contracts with private corporate entities is that doing so cuts costs, but Arizona has actually bled millions because of those partnerships. The true motives for using for-profit prisons remain questionable, however, as corporations — including MTC, Corrections Corp. of America (CCA), and Geo Group — spend millions lobbying for government support.