Mesa city council votes to privatize jails

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Mesa will become the first city in Arizona to privatize its jails for misdemeanor inmates. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Mesa will become the first city in Arizona to privatize its jails for misdemeanor inmates. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
The council voted 4-2 Monday in favor of the contract, despite a large crowd that spilled into an overflow room and seemed to unanimously oppose the deal. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The council voted 4-2 Monday in favor of the contract, despite a large crowd that spilled into an overflow room and seemed to unanimously oppose the deal. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Protesters chanted "Boycott Mesa!" after the vote. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Protesters chanted "Boycott Mesa!" after the vote. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Civil rights organizations are concerned that minorities will bear the brunt if Mesa makes the change to its jail system. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Civil rights organizations are concerned that minorities will bear the brunt if Mesa makes the change to its jail system. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
One group said it would file a temporary restraining order next week, seeking to hold up the agreement. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) One group said it would file a temporary restraining order next week, seeking to hold up the agreement. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

Mesa will become the first city in Arizona to privatize its jails for misdemeanor inmates after the city council voted to approve a $15 million contract Monday with a private prison company.

The council voted 4-2 Monday in favor of the contract, despite a large crowd that spilled into an overflow room and seemed to unanimously oppose the deal. Vice Mayor David Luna and Councilmember Jeremy Whittaker voted against the contract.

The agreement with CoreCivic is estimated to save taxpayers as much as $1 million a year.

Protesters chanted "Boycott Mesa!" after the vote. Opponents raised both public accountability and moral concerns, saying that businesses should not be profiting from the incarceration of human beings.

[RELATED: ACLU wants records of Mesa private prison contract talks]

"It makes the statement that bodies are for sale and that is not what the bible teaches us, not what the constitution teaches us and that goes against our core values," said Reginald Walton, chairman of local Black Lives Matter organization.  

One group said it would file a temporary restraining order next week, seeking to hold up the agreement. Civil rights organizations are concerned that minorities will bear the brunt if Mesa makes the change to its jail system.

[READ MORE: Mesa considers hiring private prison company]

Currently, the city pays the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office $6 million a year to house its inmates.

 The three-year contract with CoreCivic is for about $5 million annually.

The financial hit to MCSO could raise the cost of booking fees for other cities, towns and government agencies that use the county jail.

According to the Sheriff's Office, Phoenix books more inmates into their jail than any other municipality in the county.

Mesa is second, and it's estimated it will book more than 3,300 people charged with misdemeanors into the county jail system this year, according to a spokesman for the Sheriff's Office.

"The booking facility itself is maintained for our law enforcement partners so there may be an increase for those services," Mark Casey, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Office, said in a written statement.

Those arrested in Mesa on felonies would still be taken to the county facility.

However, under the new contract, those booked on lesser crimes -- including many who are still awaiting trial -- will be held in a prison-style facility in Florence, Arizona. The misdemeanor inmates from Mesa will be kept separate from the felony population at the prison, and will have their own recreation area, Mesa police said. 

Both the City of Mesa and CoreCivic are given an out-clause in which both could cancel the agreement with 60 days' notice.

Previous problems with private prisons

Arizona has a history of problems with private prisons with incidents that range from riots to deadly escapes.

On September 17, 2007, two convicted killers escaped from a private prison in Florence by overpowering a guard and then placing a ladder against the prison fence.

In July of 2010, three prisoners escaped from a different private prison in Kingman run by a different prison company.

[READ MORE: Human error, lax monitoring contributed to Kingman prison escape (Sept. 20, 2010)]

They killed a husband and wife in New Mexico before being re-captured.

That same Kingman prison was the scene of a series of riots in 2015.

[READ MORE: New pictures show Arizona prison riot damage (July 6, 2015)]

Sixteen people including correctional officers suffered injuries and the facility suffered $2 million in damage.

Last summer, an immigration detention facility in Eloy, run by a private prison company, was the source of the country's largest measles outbreak.

[READ MORE: 20th measles case confirmed in AZ; new exposure locations in Maricopa County identified (June 27, 2016)]

Health officials say it was largely the result of employees of the private prison refusing to get vaccinated.

Gov. Ducey ordered the state to do an assessment of the private prison companies operating in Arizona after that big riot.

That resulted in some changes to the way they operate.

 Critics argue it didn't go far enough.

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