The State of Arizona, seeking to close a $2 billion budget gap, is planning to open bidding on all but one of its prison facilities.
Included in the offerings to private firms is an opportunity to manage the captivity of those condemned to die: a move that, for the first time ever, would put a U.S. state's death row in corporate hands, according to The New York Times.
"While executions would still be performed by the state, officials said, the Department of Corrections would relinquish all other day-to-day operations to the private operator and pay a per-diem fee for each prisoner," the Times added.
Todd Thomas, a warden who works at a Corrections Corporation of America facility in Eloy, AZ, told the paper that he's skeptical as to whether any private entity would ever want to manage a state's death row because "the liability is too great."
Privatizing all the state's prisons would close about $100 million of the state's $2 billion budget gap, the Times added.
"The growing shortfall, roughly a fifth of the budget, prompted calls to cut spending, increase taxes and raid voter-mandated programs," the Associated Press reported on Friday.
To close the gap, "[state] agencies are proposing early prison release of a fourth of convicted felons, eliminating health care for children of the working poor and slashing so many police officers that the director of Department of Public Safety said will make Arizona 'open territory’' for smugglers," Arizona newspaper The Douglas Dispatch noted.
Other proposals being considered include halting the monitoring of air quality for a number of toxic pollutants, eliminating state monitoring of loan agencies and mortgage brokers, doing away with tutoring programs at public schools and even cutting off state funds for school safety officials, the Dispatch added.
About 30 percent of Arizona's 40,000 inmates are already held by private operators. The state has 10 prisons, nine of which are expected to be ceded to private control under the new proposals. A Corrections Corporation spokeswoman told the Times that the firm will bid on "at least some" of the prisons.
Corrections Corporation is the largest private prison company in the United States.
"It is unclear how well the state would do financially with the privatization," the Times continued. "[A] 2001 study found that private prisons save most states very little money. Indeed, many states, struggling to keep up with the cost of corrections, have closed prisons when possible and sought changes in sentencing to reduce crowding in the past two years."
Arizona's Republican Governor, Jan Brewer, supports a temporary sales tax increase as an alternative to deep budget cuts targeting voter-mandated safety net services.