Hawaii Legislators Call for Audit of Arizona Private Prison Where Two Inmates Have Been Killed in Four Months
After two inmate-on-inmate killings in the past four months — as discussed in this local news report — Hawaii legislators are calling for a state audit of the Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Ariz., the private prison that Hawaii pays $60 million a year to house 2,000 male inmates. Saguaro is run by Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest private prison corporation (or, as CCA calls itself in a somewhat Orwellian turn of phrase, “America’s Leader in Partnership Corrections”). The article notes that Hawaii used to send its female prisoners to another CCA prison, Otter Creek in Kentucky, but brought them all back after allegations of rape and abuse (I’ve posted before about rape allegations at Otter Creek). Republican governor Linda Lingle has indicated that she may veto the audit bill. The ACLU Hawaii website has information on how you can share your views with Gov. Lingle.
Apart from the issues with privatization generally, I am curious as to what readers think about Hawaii’s practice of exiling its inmates across the Pacific. Arizona is about a six hour flight from Hawaii, to say nothing of Kentucky. Even assuming an inmate’s family has the money for plane tickets, that’s not an easy trip to fit in on a weekend. According to this local article, Saguaro was built especially for Hawaiian inmates, observes Hawaiian holidays, and employs a “Native Hawaiian Cultural Advisor.” I can’t imagine all of that is too much comfort for inmates’ family members, many of whom must be effectively barred from visiting their loved ones in prison by the 3,000+ mile distance between them. Prior to the Arizona contract, Hawaii was scattering inmates to Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Kentucky, so consolidating everyone in Arizona was (supposedly) intended in part to make it easier for families to visit. But surely it’s still not that easy.
Here’s another wrinkle in all this. The first inmate who died was reportedly killed by two fellow inmates who have now been indicted for first-degree murder under Arizona law, and Arizona may seek the death penalty — although Hawaii doesn’t have the death penalty. This is just one of the many jurisdictional knots that arise when states outsource their inmates. To be clear, I don’t see any purely legal reason why Arizona shouldn’t seek the death penalty if authorized under Arizona law, but I thought it was an interesting issue to flag for readers who follow the death penalty.
At least one inmate (though the quote is anonymous) blames the violence at Saguaro on understaffing. In the same article, Honolulu prosecuting attorney Peter Carlisle apparently blames it on the fact that prisoners are inherently “unstable and dangerous,” which leads me to wonder if Carlisle thinks prisons have any responsibility to keep inmates safe. Tellingly, the article quotes a state estimate that Hawaii saves $43 million by outsourcing imprisonment to CCA. Considering the travel costs that must be involved, I would not be surprised if some of those savings are coming from leaner staffing, although maybe overhead is just exponentially lower in Arizona. Anyway, I suppose these are the sorts of things we might learn if the audit goes forward.