With Arizona’s prisons bursting at the seams, the state nixed several offers last week to build more space to house thousands of inmates.
The Department of Administration set aside the proposals from private and public prison operators because it would not be possible to build needed prison space by the April 2008 deadline imposed by the state Legislature.
State lawmakers will now have to decide whether to solicit new bids with a more relaxed deadline or set aside money for new prison construction in what has shaped up as a tight budget year.
The Department of Adminis- tration had reviewed bids from three private companies and the Arizona Department of Corrections to build space for 3,000 prisoners.
The winning bidder was expected to be announced in June.
The three companies competing against the Department of Corrections were GEO Group, Management & Training Corp. and Corrections Corporation of America.
Besides failing to meet the timeline set by lawmakers, the administration found other problems with the offers.
One problem in particular, was the state Department of Corrections’ involvement in writing the request for proposals and submitting its own bid for the contract, according to a letter released by the Department of Administration.
Some of the companies raised concerns that DOC had an unfair advantage.
It was the first time in state history DOC was allowed to compete for a public contract.
Still, other prison firms did not specify how much their proposal would cost or where it would be built.
Alan Ecker, a spokesman for the Department of Administration, said details of the four proposals were being withheld for security reasons.
“We’ve reached a critical juncture,” said Katie Decker, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections. “We’re talking about the safety of our prisoners and our staff.”
Prison experts said overcrowding in Arizona has not hit a crisis point, but it is a growing problem that’s projected to get worse.
Recent estimates of the prison population show there are about 36,000 inmates, roughly 5,000 more than the system was designed to handle.
Because of limited space, the state cut a deal earlier this month to send 1,200 Arizona prisoners to Indiana, which costs taxpayers more money than if they stayed here.
Arizona spends about $58 per day to incarcerate a prisoner in the state.
That cost jumps to about $62 a day to keep them in Indiana, Decker said. In addition to Indiana, the state also has about 1,400 inmates in Oklahoma.
Recent studies show that Arizona has one of the fastest-growing prison populations in the country, which adds more pressure to build prisons.
The Council of State Governments Justice Center released a report last month estimating that Arizona’s prison system will grow by 52 percent in the next 10 years.
Senate President Tim Bee, R-Tucson, said the Legislature will have to decide whether to reissue the request for proposals when it reviews DOC’s budget request.
Corrections officials are asking state lawmakers for $56 million next year for construction.