Lobbyists for the private prison company GEO Group convinced lawmakers to include almost $1 million extra in funding despite the fact that the Arizona Department of Corrections claimed the money wasn't needed.
Late last Friday, Arizona House Appropriations Chairman John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) placed the extra funding into the budget because GEO Group's lobbyists informed him that the company wasn't profiting enough off of emergency beds it provides Arizona prisons.
"This is somebody getting a handout," Arizona House Minority Leader Chad Campbell (D-Phoenix) said. "It's unnecessary. This came out of nowhere — I mean that. No one said a word about it. It wasn't in the Senate budget, it didn't come as a request from DOC. There's something really shady here."
A spokesman from the Arizona Department of Corrections, Doug Nick, concurred, saying that his agency did not seek additional funding from GEO Group. "We did not request it," Nick said. "We had nothing to do with it."
The state guarantees GEO Group $45 million to house minimum- and medium-security inmates in the 2,530 beds it oversees. Rep. Kavanagh called that a "cut rate," considering the recent recession, and said that "now that the economy has come back," the company merely "want[s] to get more money." He also claimed that if GEO Group didn't take the inmates, the state would have to pay to house them at more expensive -- and overcrowded -- facilities.
However, GEO Group's beds are not currently at full capacity, as The Arizona Republic reported that only 2,466 of its 2,530 beds are currently occupied.
Caroline Isaacs, the program director for the American Friends Service Committee -- a prison-spending watchdog group -- said that the unnecessary additional funding was "outrageous."
"Why this corporation feels it's entitled to bypass the contract process with a state agency it is serving and go directly to the money man (Kavanagh) is incredible. This indicates a level of coziness that should make taxpayers nervous."
Updated on Monday, March 31, 2014 at 12:43 EST:
The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) contacted Raw Story with more information regarding Rep. Kavanagh's relationship with GEO Group. According to AFSC and HRDC, "[t]he company's lobbyists apparently felt comfortable approaching Rep. Kavanagh with their request for more money, perhaps because he had received at least six campaign contributions from GEO executives and officials during the last legislative election cycle."
“When elected lawmakers bestow gifts of taxpayer funds on companies that give them campaign contributions, members of the public must wonder whether there is a quid pro quo arrangement
and if legislators are acting in the best interest of the public or protecting the special interests of their corporate donors,” said Alex Friedmann, associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center and an expert on prison privatization.
["Man Behind The Bars With Hands Tied Up With Rope" on Shutterstock]