Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

August 16, 2010


Host: Ted Simons

Private Prisons


  • A recent escape from a private prison in Kingman has brought up the issue of private prisons. Chuck Coughlin of Highground and Tixoc Munoz of the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association discuss the pros and cons of private prisons.
Guests:
  • Chuck Coughlin - Highground
  • Tixoc Munoz - Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association
Category: Law

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
An inmate and an alleged accomplice are still on the loose after three prisoners escaped from a private prison facility in Kingman. Officials are investigating the possibility that human error may have led to the escape. A unit warden and another official from the prison have resigned. Here to talk about for-profit prisons and whether or not they are good for Arizona is Chuck Coughlin from Highground. Also here is Tixoc Munoz, from the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association. Lets get more specific. Private prisons, why are they good?

Chuck Coughlin:
Well, they provide policy-makers an option in times where we've gone through some very difficult budget periods over the last several years. There are options in terms of incarceration, options for policy-makers which in some instances can provide greater 11 cost savings and equal security. There are instances where it fails, where it obviously failed last week or a week or two ago, and that's troubling. You're dealing with a very difficult, as Tixoc knows, a very difficult population and it's a very difficult environment for a public employee or for a private employee to work in. You try and create an opportunity for those private entrepreneurs and public employees to work in a safe and productive environment. We think having an option both is in the best interests of the state.

Ted Simons:
Best interests of the state?

Tixoc Munoz:
You can say that when the budget is tough. I can tell you something, we know now what happened in New Mexico, I would say for the best interests of the citizens, definitely not. One of the things we provide, something Chuck just mentioned a moment ago, we must realize that our training is more detailed and more compromised with public safety. The things we're talking about, we all know human error was involved because we were not prepared. The state definitely always will be public.

Ted Simons:
But is it an option? Should private prison still be an option?

Tixoc Munoz:
Sure. We as a group are not opposed to their existence. But not for this type of offenders.

Ted Simons:
How do private prisons differ from state-run facilities? 12

Chuck Coughlin:
I think in many instances, as Tixoc mentioned, there's a level of prisoner. The Governor vetoed that because that's ridiculous. Certain levels of offenders have to be incarcerated in institutions that there's a boundary line they are not going to go beyond. She's reviewing that now and that'll be a public policy discussion as we move forward. That's the kind of thing you look at, what kind of offender are you housing, what's the cost, what's the cost of transportation, what are the inmates' needs while there, the threat to the public. Those are all policy considerations made with an eye on the budget, as well.

Ted Simons:
Oversight and regulation, is there enough by the state over these facilities?

Tixoc Munoz:
You know, I do not believe that. I think we should have more people than we have now. I think we have about four people overseeing them. It's not enough for an institution with a few thousand inmates.

Chuck Coughlin:
I think it's a reasonable question to ask. It's one that we're looking at and I know the Governor's folks are looking at. Everybody in the industry was very upset and disturbed by what happened. It's not an acceptable practice in a public prison or a private prison, it's not acceptable, what happened there. We're under review right now, the Governor was in Lake Havasu this weekend. She met with representatives of MTC, she met with the head of corrections. There's a report that's provided, they are asking MTC to respond to that. That's going to be the subject of some discussion. As I said, it's not acceptable. Governor knows that, everybody in the industry is very concerned. On this particular facility there were some administrative decisions made in the last year of the Napolitano administration, it was originally sold as a DUI incarceration facility. It was changed with the attorney general's approval to house higher levels of inmates. It was a budget discussion, that's a budget consideration. When you do that, then what training requirements are in place? What are the things that need to be done to make sure the level of security and the level of protection for the guards and for the general public is there? So that's something that the governor's looking at.

Ted Simons:
But medium -- we've seen people convicted of murder in medium security prisons before, even lighter security prisons before. What happened up there? What went wrong?

Tixoc Munoz:
I cannot say what went wrong, I'm not privy to the investigation. I can tell you we went wrong when we went private. I can tell you the inmates were in medium security before, and never escaped. That's due to training and dedication. As Chuck mentioned a minute ago,it's for profit, they are there to make money. They will get around whatever it takes to make a penny, including putting the public at risk. That's just it.

Ted Simons:
What do you make of that?

Chuck Coughlin:
I understand the perspective, I appreciate that perspective. But the reality is there has to be options. The options also help the public prisons be more competitive, as well, to make sure there is a competitive atmosphere in which we're operating. I hesitate to compare public schools and charter schools with federal prisons, but the notion of having competition for public resources is always a good idea. There is a proper oversight? Are we doing that? The Governor was very concerned about this whole issue, Ted. She got in office and said, I'm going to stake my reputation on the fact that we're not going to duty further beyond where we need to go. She advocated for a sales tax election, which was supported by 64% of the electorate, and which saved corrections over $80 million of its own budget. There was going to be another $80 million correction in the alternative budget that was passed. It was the Governor's leadership that saw that and said, I'm not willing to go further. She has tried to navigate a road here. There is opportunities to go further in terms of oversight? I think always good things to look at. There are opportunities to look at the public sector, too on the 15 private side. Again, it's the population you're dealing with. This is not an easy job.

Ted Simons:
As far as the investigation is concerned, though, and because disclosure seems to be a concern, it was mentioned the last corrections chief said there was as low an oversight in Arizona as there was around the country for some of these private prisons. Two people were fired because of this incident and we can't get the full story because the disclosure is not there. That's something to look at, isn't it?


Chuck Coughlin:
The good thing, as you've just mentioned, heads have rolled already. Unfortunately again, the tragedy in New Mexico is played out in terms of people who are responsible. There will be accountability, and discussions. The Governor this weekend was in Lake Havasu meeting with the corrections director, with the head of mtc. I'm confident she intends to have a full airing of this issue and a discussion with the policy-makers with the legislature.

Ted Simons:
With more oversight and regulation and communication between the private prison agents state, can there be a place for private facilities in Arizona?

Tixoc Munoz:
Sure. We're not opposed to this type of facilities. We believe they belong close to us, too. We believe that oversight is the key element. 16 That we can see the books, exactly what they do. We are not allowed by law to see their books.

Ted Simons:
The company says, we can't allow that much -- we're a business. We're a for-profit business. We can't let you look at all of our books. Is that a deal-breaker there?

Tixoc Munoz:
Yeah, definitely. One thing to think b we always try to save money for the taxpayers, they don't. The more people in, the more money they make.

Chuck Coughlin:
When we talk about open books, we should talk about the open books on the unions, as well. You have the sciu and others, they have been actively engaged in spending money, to deny us the all-star game in 2011. Let's look at the whole picture. One of the things we've been talking about here is a very reasonable policy decision. But there are some very unreasonable people involved in the debate, and that is the people with things sciu, with the scew, they are part of Obama's electoral coalition. It's the number one and number two supporters behind the boycott effort. We've got recognize who we're dealing with when we deal with labor. I'm not suggesting that Tixoc's union is that. They have had a good relationship with the governor. There are people who do not have Arizona's best interests at heart.

Ted Simons:
How do you respond?

Tixoc Munoz:
The governor and I have had a relationship for years, we've been friends for years the Governor and I. Personally I do not support any -- I live here, I believe in the best interests of the public sector.

Ted Simons:
I have to mention as well there are some folks concerned about your position in this, lobbying for the private prisons and working so closely with the Governor. They see a connection and a concern.

Chuck Coughlin:
That's why I'm here and why I appreciate the opportunity. My client, Corrections Corporation of America, we've represented for about the last two and a half years, they have over 2300 employees in the state. They do not house Arizona prisoners, those are federal prisoners but they have a lot of employees in the state. They are like any other employer, paying taxes and being part of the system out here. That's one of the things we do for them is look out for them on all kinds of employee issues and corporate tax issues because they are a corporate entity here in Arizona.

Ted Simons:
But that's a pretty cozy relationship, isn't it?

Chuck Coughlin:
I've known the Governor for a long time, Ted. I disclose everything that we do. We have to file all of our paperwork, all the things we do. We're under a very open process, and the fact that we're talking about it, I'm comfortable with that. I'm comfortable knowing they need representation just as the public employees have representation. 9 corrections corporation of America need representation. People need to know what the company does.

Ted Simons:
Last question: When critics say the Governor is so much for immigration law, because it means federal lockup, you're involved with that, you're involved with her. What's going on there?

Chuck Coughlin:
Absolutely hyperbole. There are no private jails, those are public jails when someone gets arrested. There would be no transport into the state prison system where this happens. It's totally made-up by the very people I mentioned earlier, sciu, the uscw and organizations trying to politicize the issue.

Ted Simons:
I'll stop you right there, thanks for joining us, both of you.

Chuck Coughlin & Tixoc Munoz:
Thank you.


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