Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Saturday, January 11, 2014

John Kavanagh, Sanctimonious Sell Out or just Jumping the Shark? UPDATED 1-13-14 5:45pm MST

On December 29, the Republic ran a column written by EJ Montini blasting the private prison industrial complex. It began,
We don’t privatize prisons in Arizona, we communize them.
If we actually privatized prisons – as our politicians say we do – the free market would dictate how much money the prison operators make. There would be risk, like there is when an entrepreneur opens a restaurant or a hair salon or a motel.
There is no risk for private prison operators in Arizona.
As pointed out in an article by The Arizona Republic’s Craig Harris, the state guarantees the folks who house our convicted criminals that taxpayers will pay them for a 90 percent (or even higher) occupancy rate. In other words, we pay them whether the beds are full or not.
That’s not what capitalists do.
It’s what communists do.
Well, Mr. Bluster (Kavanagh) was having none of that. Saturday's Republic (or, at least on has an op-ed under Kavanagh's byline with a rebuttal that takes an emphatically sanctimonious tone.
A recent column by The Arizona Republic’s E.J. Montini and an editorial criticizing state government for using private prisons were short on facts and misleading (“Taxpayers held hostage by private prisons,” Dec. 29, and “Private prisons: Let’s see hidden cost comparisons,” Jan. 2).
The suggestion that private prisons cost taxpayers more money to operate than state-run prisons is wrong... 
When you further adjust these figures, as the nonpartisan Joint Legislative Budget Committee did, by adding in the high expenses of constructing the prisons and paying for the costly and grossly underfunded public pensions of state corrections employees, the private prisons become an even better deal for Arizona taxpayers.
The allegation that the Legislature and governor ended cost-comparison studies because they found private prisons more expensive is not true. The studies were stopped because they were misleading. For three years, the Arizona Department of Corrections repeatedly refused to include in their public-prison formula the construction cost and pension-liability factors mentioned above.
Translation: the studies were stopped because WE DID NOT LIKE THE OUTCOME!

If, as Kavanagh claims, the studies were misleading, why did not the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee (Kavanagh) run a bill specifying the parameters of a study that would NOT be misleading? Or why didn't he and his caucus bully... er, direct the Department of Corrections (the way they have with the Redistricting Commission) as to specific parameters of a cost comparison study that he would consider to be fair and accurate?

To answer that question, I direct you to my recent blog post on Yarbrough's skimming. At the end of the post, brief video clips provide insight into the perverse incentives that are encompassed in our traditional campaign finance system. By the way, normally, in journalistic publications, financial ties related to the subject about which one writes must be disclosed. Though campaign finance reporting is standard practice for Arizona lawmakers, the Republic did not require a disclaimer to be attached to Kavanagh's column. He has, in fact, received plenty of campaign money from private prison operator GeoGroup, it's owners or officers and its lobbyists.

Despite Kavanagh's vociferous denial, economists (who are scientists) specifically identify private prison contracts which specify minimum occupancy guarantees as perverse incentives. But our good friend John Kavanagh -- after having posted comments saying he and I needed to be using common terminology as defined by dictionaries, and after I provided dictionary definitions for him -- grumbled "By expanding the definitions of accusatory words beyond their normal usage, you strip them of both their meaning and power."

Anyway, though I could tear Kavanagh's op-ed column apart in exquisite detail, it dawned on me that really what he did in spouting off to rationalize and try to justify private prisons, was "jump the shark."
Refers to a 1970's TV sitcom. It had a main character known for being the Coolest guy on TV (The Fonze). As the series entered one of its last seasons, the writers had this oh-so-cool guy waterskiing in his trademark leather jacket, to jump a shark. It was truely the moment when the series went downhill from there and was soon mercifully cancelled. 
To that point, Kavanagh's op-ed has (so far) 52 comments posted to it. Of that, only one person defends John's perspective. Just one. That tells me the end is near for the private prison industrial complex. Not just in Arizona and not just because the low-hanging fruit of marijuana possession convictions will go away when Arizona voters legalize cannabis. Which will happen, as early as November this year. After years of serious problems, Idaho announced, just days ago, that it has ended its relationship with the private prison industry.
Idaho will take over the operation of its largest prison from one of the nation's biggest corrections contractors, abruptly ending an experiment with privatization at a facility that has been plagued by understaffing, multiple lawsuits and allegations of contract fraud.
For your edification, and further insight on private prisons in Arizona, I invite you to look through this PowerPoint presentation put together by lawyer and advocate Dianne Post. Just click the link, as it is stored on Google Drive, you do not need PowerPoint software to view the 48 slide presentation.

The bottom line is that John Kavanagh's bluster will not save the day. He's wrong and the private prison industry is wrong for Arizona and America for SOOOO many reasons.

By the way, Sunday's edition of the Arizona Republic, on page A1, carries news that further demonstrates the fallacious nature of our friend John Kavanagh's claims about his private prison benefactors.


Among the many unaccounted for cost factors necessary for proper evaluation of the private prison industrial complex is liability for crimes committed by prison operators and staff. The latest news is of lawsuits in Florida regarding a youth correctional facility run by Youth Services International.
A pair of recent lawsuits against a private youth prison operator in Florida amplify claims that the company, Youth Services International, has frequently covered up reports that staff sexually abused young people held inside its facilities.

According to a suit filed in October in federal court, the top administrator at one YSI youth prison regularly made sexual advances toward teenage boys held there in 2010 and 2011 and on at least one occasion brought inmates home with him and into his bedroom. A separate case filed in Florida court in November alleges that a female guard at another YSI facility in 2012 began an "intimate and sexual relationship" with a 14-year-old inmate. [...]
The lawsuits reinforce the findings of a recent Huffington Post investigation that revealed more than two decades of abuse and neglect inside private prisons operated by Youth Services International and other companies run by its founder, James Slattery. The series focused particular attention on the state of Florida, which has become emblematic of a nationwide trend in which growing numbers of prisoners of all ages are placed inside institutions operated by for-profit companies. Florida has entirely privatized its youth prisons. 

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