Arizona Just Terminated a Private Prison Contract

August 27th 2015

Alex Mierjeski

Arizona is cutting ties with a private prison company that it says failed to control riots in July of this year. The riots left one facility near Kingman badly damaged, caused injury to 16 people, and forced the relocation of more than 1,000 inmates, the Arizona Republic reports.

The decision comes after an investigation by the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC), which found that the operator, Management & Training Corp. (MTC), allowed for "a culture of disorganization, disengagement, and disregard" of ADC policies to flourish at the Golden Valley facility, which ultimately led to the riot. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey called for the investigation following the days of unrest early last month.

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What this report found.

The report found that MTC's operation of the Kingman facility fell short in numerous areas, including staff training required by the state, and riot control. The report also highlighted a failure to rectify problems identified five years ago after a prison break that led to the deaths of couple in New Mexico. MTC kept many of these deficiencies from the state, according to the report.

"What happened at Kingman was frightening, disturbing, and completely unacceptable," Ducy said at a press conference Wednesday. "It's time for the state to take action."

Riots broke out July 1, 2015 after a small group of minimum-security inmates tried to attack another inmate, Reuters reported, and were spread out over the following two days. According to the DOC investigation, inmates' anger was largely directed at prison staff and at the facility itself, suggesting "that the riots were more likely precipitated by inmate dissatisfaction with MTC's operation of the prison than by anger among the inmates themselves."

While MTC took full responsibility and will pay for the cost of transfers and repairs to the facility, the company said that the DOC did not allow ample time for a response. MTC also criticized the agency for their handling of the disturbance, which they say "may have impeded our ability to properly manage and minimize the subsequent disturbance," the Republic notes. Arizona's corrections department has not accepted any responsibility for a lack of oversight, blaming MTC for withholding information.

"Over the last five years, ADC has expressed no significant concerns with our operation," a statement from MTC read. "We have provided a high level of service, comparable to other ADC facilities, and this has all been substantiated by ADC."

According to the Republic, the state is going to search for another company to operate the Kingman facility, the contract for which is potentially worth more than $70 million a year.

Were the riots worse than originally reported?

A separate report issued by the American Friends Service Committee on the prison riot questioned the ability of private prison operators' ability to run facilities that are "safe, cost effective, humanely run, and accountable to the public." It cited a history of security problems at the MTC facility, including more than a dozen instances of "large groups of inmates refusing directives or chasing MTC staff off the yard," in the last decade, Gawker reported. That report also suggested that both the day-to-day management and law enforcement crackdown following the riots were unnecessarily brutal. According to the report, guards at the prison routinely and unnecessarily overused pepper spray to control inmates.

The report also highlights the possibility that the law enforcement response following the riots, which consisted of almost 100 heavily armed state ADC officers, was much worse than previously believed. Using first-hand accounts from a prisoners and staff, the report gathers accounts of overly harsh law enforcement crackdown, including instances of "prisoners who were completely incapacitated...still being beaten, tazed, and shot with rubber bullets." Other accounts cite the use of a barrage of tactical devices to control prisoners that included "tear gas, hornet grenades that release rubber pellets, and other 'less than lethal' munitions."

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What prisoners said.

Anonymous prisoners' accounts collected from email correspondence by researchers and included in the report shed light on what the experience was like:

The gas filled the pod until you could barely see your hand in front of your face. Your eyes burned and watered so bad you couldn't open them, snot poured from your nose and you couldn't breath and when you could all you did was cough. After 7 or 8 minutes or so people were yelling and screaming that they couldn't breath, some broke windows that go outside, they have bars on them so you can get out, so they could get air.

...even though everyone was already on the floor and on their stomachs they still kicked us, beat us and shot us with their weapons. [The] guy next to me didn't speak any English and when they came to his house and told him to get up off the ground and he didn't respond they kicked him in the head and shot him twice and screamed at him again and again to get up. I yelled that he doesn't speak any English and they kicked him again and shot him 4 more times and said, "Do you speak English now mother-[expletive]?" Still he didn't move so they dragged him out.

Because the report found that several inmates appeared to have sustained injuries after the riot took place, it accused ADC of failing to properly manage the private company it had employed to run the prison, detect, and correct identified problems it had, or hold the company accountable for persistent problems.

MTC will continue to operate a minimum-security facility in Marana, the Republic reports.

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