(CNN) — The escape of three convicts from a prison in Arizona last week has become an issue in the state’s campaign for governor.
Attorney General Terry Goddard, a Democratic candidate, is accusing incumbent Republican Gov. Jan Brewer of increasing the risk of jailbreaks by favoring for-profit prisons over state-run prisons.
“The Brewer administration has consistently promoted private over public prisons, in spite of the public safety risk,” he said. “The escape of these two violent offenders makes it clear how dangerous this policy has been.”
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Goddard is calling for a moratorium on putting violent criminals in for-profit facilities. “They’re going to cut costs wherever they can,” he told CNN Tuesday, “putting public safety at risk.”
Brewer’s office says a review of security at private prisons is already under way and accuses Goddard of playing politics.
“His criticisms are little more than an irresponsible stunt attempting to score political points off of a terrible tragedy,” said spokesman Paul Senseman.
The three inmates — all convicted of murder, second-degree murder or attempted second-degree murder — escaped July 30 from a for-profit prison in Kingman, Arizona. The prison is run by Management and Training Corp. of Utah.
The attorney general accuses Brewer’s administration of allowing inmates’ threat levels to be too easily downgraded, so they can be housed in cheaper prisons.
Goddard also alleged that “private prisons have a very, very strong influence” with Brewer, because spokesman Senseman was once a contract lobbyist for private prisons.
State officials say the inmates escaped through a door at which the alarm failed to sound, then cut a hole in the fence with wire-cutters that had been thrown over the fence by an accomplice. They escaped undetected.
One of the three escapees, John McCluskey, remains at large.
From Stephen Lemons at the PHOENIX New Times:
In May, I reported in my Feathered Bastard blog that executives and lobbyists for the giant, Tennessee-based prison company Corrections Corporation of America had donated $1,780 in “seed money” for Governor Jan Brewer‘s Clean Elections campaign.
Such early contributions are limited to $140 per person. But if that seems like chump change, consider that CCA also contributed a whopping $10,000 to the campaign for Prop 100, the state sales-tax initiative, the success of which was considered key to Brewer’s bid to be more than an “accidental” governor.
The proposition was approved overwhelmingly by voters in May.
CCA operates six prisons in Arizona, three of which house detainees for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
As this column goes to press, SB 1070, Arizona’s “breathing-while-brown” law, awaits the decision of U.S. District Judge Susan R. Bolton on whether she will grant an injunction of all or part of the statute.
CCA probably will end up holding some of these [undocumented people] as they wait for removal proceedings or if they are convicted of federal immigration-related crimes.
So CCA stands to profit from SB 1070 […]
In These Times’ July issue featured a story by Beau Hodai that revealed that Brewer’s top flack, Paul Senseman, worked for Arizona’s Policy Development Group, which lists CCA as a client. Senseman’s wife, Kathy, is listed with the firm as a lobbyist for CCA.
Hodai also reported that the CCA employs Highground Public Affairs Consultants to represent its interests in Arizona. Highground’s president is Chuck Coughlin, Brewer’s top political adviser and the man running her gubernatorial campaign.
During a recent newscast, reporter Morgan Loew revealed that CCA gets $11 million a month for inmates in the company’s Arizona facilities.
[…]that $11 million doesn’t include whatever ICE pays CCA for the same services.
Loew sandbagged Brewer at an event, but Brewer refused to answer questions about her advisers’ ties to CCA.
Brewer’s boy was willing to chat it up with me about his big-dollar, private prison client, however.
Clearly miffed by the CBS 5 report, Coughlin referred to it as “drive-by” journalism, and claimed that CCA “doesn’t house any Arizona prisoners.”
When I told him that I’d been to the federal courthouse in Tucson myself, and witnessed CCA buses carting people convicted of immigration crimes, he backpedaled — but not by much.
“That may be a federal contract,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the state.”
But it will have something to do with the state if 1070 takes effect, as 1070 is all about local police enforcing federal immigration law to the fullest extent possible. Indeed, law enforcement agencies that do not enforce 1070 can be sued by Arizona citizens under one of the law’s provisions.
If CCA ends up holding some of these individuals, then 1070 will benefit CCA directly.
“If that happens, if it were the case, if ICE does,” scoffed Coughlin. “You have a lot of ifs down the road that’s not a matter of fact right now. We’re not working on speculative ventures here. We had no position on 1070. We did not lobby on 1070.”
Didn’t lobby on 1070? That’s one hard-to-swallow lump of coal. I asked Coughlin if he was telling me he’d never talked to Brewer about 1070 or advised her to sign the bill, as many presume he did.
“I talk with her about a lot of stuff,” he admitted. “Of course, we talked about 1070. We run her campaign. Absolutely.”
Coughlin also admitted that his firm began representing CCA “over a year ago.” So he was representing CCA at the same time he was advising Brewer on whether to sign the law.
If that’s not a conflict of interest big enough to drive a semi through, I don’t know what is.