Private prison company GEO Group coaxed around $1 million out of Arizona Republicans, despite assertions by the state Department of Corrections that the money is not needed based on the state’s contract with GEO Group.
The last-minute funding attempt came late Friday, when Arizona House Appropriations Chairman John Kavanagh (R) added $900,000 into a budget proposal after GEO Group lobbyists convinced him that the company was not seeing enough profit from emergency inmate beds it supplies Arizona’s prisons in Phoenix and Florence.
The funding addition, which must now win the state Senate’s approval, comes despite GEO Group’s established contract with the state for $45 million to hold minimum- and medium-security inmates in its 2,530 beds.
Doug Nick, spokesman for the Arizona Department of Corrections, told the Arizona Republic that the agency did not seek increased funding for GEO.
“We did not request it,” Nick said. “We had nothing to do with it.”
Kavanagh told the Republic that GEO’s current contract was “cut rate” in the face of recessionary impacts on the prison company’s bottom line. He said that “now that the economy has come back,” the company merely “want[s] to get more money.”
He warned that should the GEO Group cancel its contract – which comes with a promise to fill nearly all inmate beds the private prison company oversees in Arizona – the state would have to pay a more expensive sum.
"I didn't see a problem in giving them a small increase," Kavanagh said Monday. "If you don't treat people fairly they won't treat you fairly in the future."
As of Friday, 2,466 of GEO’s 2,530 beds in the state were occupied.
Other lawmakers said they only learned about the additional funding just hours before voting on the budget proposal.
“This is somebody getting a handout,” Arizona House Minority Leader Chad Campbell (D) 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.”
Campbell said all but one House Republican supported the measure.
An Arizona Senate committee stripped the provision from the state budget on Monday, yet the full state Senate must weigh in on the legislation before the funding is considered dead.
Advocacy groups American Friends Service Committee and Human Rights Defense Center told Raw Story that Kavanagh’s move is no surprise considering his relationship with GEO Group.
“The 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.”
Alex Friedmann, associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center, said the public should be wary of close relationships between companies and elected representatives.
“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.”
Caroline Issacs, of the prisons watchdog group American Friends Service Committee, said the additional funding move 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.”