Kansas Will Spend Millions To House Hundreds Of Inmates At A Private Arizona Prison

Aug 9, 2019
Originally published on August 22, 2019 4:41 am

Kansas will send 360 of its male prisoners to a privately owned and operated prison in Eloy, Arizona, starting this summer.

The Kansas Department of Corrections announced Friday that it had finalized a contract with CoreCivic to move up to 600 people to Saguaro Correctional Center. The prison is about one hour southeast of Phoenix and about a 12-hour drive from the southwestern corner of Kansas.

As of Aug. 9, Kansas prisons exceeded their operating capacity by 100 inmates.

“Sending Kansas inmates to another state is an option we wish we could avoid,” said acting Corrections Secretary Jeff Zmuda in a news release. “Entering into this contract to accommodate growth in the prison population is the best option available at this time for the safety of our staff and inmates.”

Zmuda was not available for further comment, said corrections spokesman Randy Bowman.

The one-year contract will cost the state $74.76 per inmate per day, totaling between $6 million and $7 million, Bowman said. The cost of transporting inmates to Saguaro is included in that rate.

CoreCivic will fly the first group of 120 inmates to Arizona. The company is expected to drive the rest in monthly installments until December. Some inmates may be driven back from Arizona once they are near the end of their sentence, Bowman said.  The state has the option to renew the contract for two more yearlong periods.

The agreement includes free video visits for Kansas inmates to see their loved ones, attend hearings and access services that could help them upon their release.

Under the agreement, Kansas officials will be allowed to inspect the Arizona facility to make sure its conditions are safe. Bowman said the department is still deciding whether it will transport officials back and forth between the two states, or if it will appoint an employee to stay in Arizona and monitor the contract full time. CoreCivic operates prisons around the country and has come under fire for its treatment of inmates at some facilities.

The state will also contract with three county jails in Kansas to house 40 men and 13 women. The counties include Washington, Cherokee and Wilson Counties.

Earlier this year, the state finance council awarded the Department of Corrections $4.4 million to pay for contracts with outside prisons. The department had asked for an additional $11 million to manage its population, which is projected to increase in coming years.

Representative John Carmichael of Wichita said the rising prison population was due to decades of policies sending more people to jail for longer periods.

As the number of inmates has grown, prisons have experienced increased violence and reduced services within their walls. The state has also struggled to recruit enough guards and medical staff. Gov. Laura Kelly recently lifted an emergency declaration requiring long overtime shifts at El Dorado Correctional Facility. 

“At this point, we don't have any viable alternative other than to, on a temporary basis, use these private prison facilities,” he said. “Lessening the penalties for people who are felons is never politically popular.”

The state legislature voted this year to form the Kansas Criminal Justice Reform Commission. The group is expected to release a preliminary report in December with ideas for reducing the prison population. 

Nomin Ujiyediin reports on criminal justice and social welfare for the Kansas News Service.  Follow her on Twitter @NominUJ or email nomin (at) kcur (dot) org.

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