By Craig Harris
Gov. Doug Ducey is opening the door to allow counties to compete against private-prison companies for a lucrative multimillion-dollar contract to house state inmates.
The move comes after county sheriffs — including conservatives — complained that the Republican governor and GOP-controlled Legislature weren’t giving them an opportunity to make money by putting overflow state prisoners in their empty county-jail beds.
Instead, the Arizona Department of Corrections to date has mostly steered inmates — and public funds — to private prisons.
“We feel this is the best plan both for public safety and for taxpayers,” Daniel Scarpinato, Ducey’s spokesman, said Friday.
Scarpinato said Ducey’s current spending plan, crafted with legislative leaders and still under debate, calls for spending nearly $24 million a year to move 1,000 medium-security inmates out of state prisons beginning July 1, 2016. He said the governor could seek another 1,000 medium-security beds in 2017 if needed.
The proposal is scaled back from Ducey’s original $100 million, 3,000–bed prison expansion that came under public criticism because the budget also envisioned cutting education funding.