The Kansas Department of Corrections announced Friday it will send 360 inmates from Kansas to a privately run prison in Arizona by the end of the year.
The agency said it entered into a contract with Nashville-based CoreCivic to send Kansas inmates to the Saguaro Correctional Center in Elroy, Ariz. A total of 600 inmates could be sent under terms of the one-year contract with two one-year renewal options.
The agreement, with funding authorized earlier this year by the State Finance Council, provides relief to overcrowded Kansas prisons, corrections officials said.
The inmates will move in phases with up to 120 inmates being sent at a time. The first group will move by the end of the summer with the final group moving by the end of December.
“Sending Kansas inmates to another state is an option we wish we could avoid,” said acting corrections secretary Jeff Zmuda. “Entering into this contract to accommodate growth in the prison population is the best option available at this time for the safety of our staff and inmates.”
As of Thursday, the Kansas Department of Corrections had an inmate population of 9,088 men and 914 women, figures that are projected to increase and already exceed capacity by 75 for men and seven for women, officials said.
In June, the finance council — a panel that consists of legislative leaders from both parties and Gov. Laura Kelly — approved $4.3 million for transferring up to 360 inmates to a privately run prison. KDOC had asked for $10.95 million.
Kelly, a Democrat who took office in January, said she inherited a crisis from the previous administration.
"The decision to send some of our inmates to a private prison wasn’t made lightly," Kelly said. "I’ve been on the record as being against private prisons, and I share a number of concerns that have been raised by anti-private prison advocates."
Under the deal reached with CoreCivic, KDOC will pay $74.76 per inmate per day. Randy Bowman, a spokesman for KDOC, said the agency will use the money allotted by the finance council, as well as $5.4 million in funding provided directly by the Kansas Legislature, for contract beds.
"At this time, we are not planning to ask for them to release more funding," Bowman said.
In addition to outsourcing inmates to the private prison, the agency also is paying county jails in Kansas to house a little more than 100 inmates, Bowman said.
The contract with CoreCivic provides for an onsite monitor who reports directly to KDOC and has access to the facility for the purpose of ensuring the conditions meet Kansas standards, the agency said. The deal also allows KDOC officials to inspect the facility at any time.
CoreCivic will provide transportation to and from the Arizona facility for medium- and maximum-custody inmates while providing that inmates live under healthy, sanitary and safe conditions in the facility. CoreCivic also will provide training, treatment, recreational and educational services for these inmates, as well as video visitation services.
The private prison company, formerly known as CCA, is subject to a multitude of civil lawsuits over conditions for inmates and workers, and has been a lightning rod for controversy over the ethics of profiting from mass incarceration. The company's facilities include detention centers used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Ashley Dixon, a former employee of Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, which is operated by CoreCivic in Hartsville, Tenn., said the governor should consider alternatives to addressing the overcrowding problem that don't involve partnering with a private prison.
An outspoken critic of CoreCivic, Dixon's suggestions include sentencing reform, increasing the availability of good time credits, eliminating mandatory minimum sentences and reducing penalties for nonviolent crimes.
"CoreCivic, the same company that is making billions off of concentration camps for immigrants, is now also profiting off of locking residents of Kansas in cages in another state, and Gov. Laura Kelly is complicit," Dixon said. "It's clear that she has chosen a side, and it's not the side of the people."
Kelly said her administration takes seriously the obligation to provide inmates with safe conditions.
"I urge the Legislature to pursue long-term solutions to prison overcrowding — and I look forward to working together on reforming our criminal justice system," Kelly said.
Brandon Bissell, manager of public affairs for CoreCivic, said in a guest column in June that the company is proud of its safety record and re-entry programming.
"In addition to providing a safe environment and critical programming, our Arizona facilities are modern, well-managed and independently accredited by the (American Correctional Association)," Bissell said. "Our government partners have unfettered access to the facilities, staff and inmates, giving them complete transparency into our operations."
KDOC said it would publish a copy of the contract with CoreCivic on Saturday through the Kansas Department of Administration website.