State lawmakers look to ease oversight on private prisons

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It was a prison break that made national news.

Two convicted killers and a third dangerous criminal broke out of a medium security private prison facility in Kingman Arizona in July 2010.

The escapees were eventually caught after a nationwide manhunt, but not before an Oklahoma couple was killed.

The escape and murders that followed raised some serious questions about private prison safety standards and whether new policies should be put in place to prevent prison breaks from happening again.

Two years later, Arizona lawmakers have decided to go in a different direction.

Buried in the $8.6 billion budget proposal passed at the state Capitol this week is a plan to "eliminate the requirement for a quality and cost review of private prison contracts."

It means there would no longer be an annual review of how private prisons operate.

House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, voted against the new provision.

"It's insanity, that's the only way to describe this, removing the ability for the state to do a cost and quality analysis of the private prison contracts that are being funded by taxpayer dollars makes absolutely no sense whatever," said Campbell.

Arizona currently has about a dozen privately operated prisons.

State Rep. John Kavanaugh, R- Fountain Hills, is the lawmaker who proposed the plan to remove the review process.

CBS5 asked Kavanaugh why the change is good for Arizona.

"Because it's a study that was bias from the beginning and never used," said Kavanaugh."So rather than have a report that is biased and nobody listens to and costs money to produce. We simply eliminated it."

According to Kavanaugh, the recent reports on private prisons have been put together by state prison officials, skewing the data.

Kavanaugh said that doing away with the annual review will not impact public safety.

"This study has nothing to do with oversight," said Kavanaugh. "This was simply a study where the number crunchers compared the costs of public and private prisons."

That study found that in some cases private prisons cost taxpayers more than state-run facilities.

"Some people are saying we are not reviewing private prisons," said Kavanaugh. "That's not true. Every private prison we have has standards and requires DOC on-site inspectors be present at every prison to make sure it is run properly."

Campbell and other Democrats claim there's more to it, suggesting that by getting rid of the data on private prisons that show how expensive they are, will simply make it easier to get more built in the future, said Campbell.

"This is what I believe is a hand out to private prison corporations operating in Arizona right now," Campbell said.

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