In a bold move that required the state’s top elected officials to side with Arizona public safety officers against big corporations looking to make profits off the state’s prison system, Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a line item in the proposed state budget that would have privatized prisons.
After months of often intense communication between AZCOPS leaders and the Governor’s staff, Gov. Brewer said no to private prisons on July 1 when she vetoed the item from the state budget.
Earlier in the day, AZCOPS members responded to a Legislative Alert issued by AZCOPS Government Relations Director Luis Ebratt urging them to immediately contact the Governor’s Office and encourage her to veto privatization.
“Members apparently flooded the Governor’s Office with emails and phone calls,” Ebratt said. “And it worked. She listened to us.”
Ebratt and Gov. Brewer, her staff and other top legislative leaders told him and AZCOPS President Larry A. Lopez early in the session that they wouldn’t support privatization of the state’s prisons. Ebratt and Lopez commended the new Governor and others for keeping their word.
“We were fighting big corporations with lots of money and influence for continued control over our prison system,” Ebratt said. “In the end, it was the collective voice of AZCOPS members who made the difference.”
From the beginning of the legislative session, Ebratt and Lopez educated state lawmakers of the dangers of privatizing prisons in an attempt to save taxpayers money.
“This truly is a public safety issue,” Lopez said. “Nationwide, the statistics are startling. Private prisons and jails have more escapes, more incidents of violence among inmates and against employees. AZCOPS wasn’t willing to capitulate on this issue and put our members at risk.”
Lopez said jobs of AZCOPS members were at risk under the proposal as private prison corporations would have cut the work force to save money and increase their profits.
“Sworn public safety officers would have been replaced by minimum-wage workers with no training or experience,” he said. “Wages and benefits would have been on the chopping block, and there would have been little if any accountablity to the public.”
In June, Ebratt met with Tim Bee, the Governor’s Director in Southern Arizona, to discuss the union’s opposition to the legislation. Earlier in the session, Lopez met with Richard Bark, the Governor’s Chief of Staff, and expressed similar concerns. After receiving input from AZCOPS, Bee and Bark said they would recommend the Governor veto any move to privatize prisons.
“We appreciate the Governor for standing up with AZCOPS on this issue,” Lopez said.
Ebratt cautioned that while the immediate threat may have been contained in the Governor’s veto, there is no doubt that prison privatization will be discussed in future legislative sessions.
“AZCOPS is the leader in the Capitol against privatizing prisons and jails, and we will have to remain vigilant through the years on this issue,” he said.
“For the short term, members should continue to press the Governor’s Office to permanently remove privatization from all discussions at the Capitol,” Ebratt said.
He said AZCOPS members, especially those working in the Department of Corrections, should continue to communicate with the Governor’s Office about the dangers of privatization, even after the Legislature is adjourned.