The Arizona Legislature is working toward passage of a budget, which normally is the culmination of the session. Last year a major increase in teacher pay was a priority, and this year Gov. Doug Ducey is pushing compensation for corrections officers. That is important, especially because their pay has lagged and many positions go unfilled.
Meanwhile, a worthwhile effort is being made to include corrections officers in private prisons that hold state inmates. A full 20% of the state correctional system is operated that way. Mayors of Casa Grande, Florence, Coolidge and Eloy along with County Supervisor Mike Goodman have signed a letter to legislative leadership encouraging inclusion of the officers in private prisons for the pay raise.
Some advocates disparage private prisons and incarceration in general. However, the state uses them primarily to save money, and they do a generally good job for the state and other entities, including the federal government. Incarceration is a necessary function, and private prisons are a major employer in Pinal County, concentrated in Eloy and Florence. Also, the liability for state pensions of prison employees often is not fully considered when the economics are discussed.
As the budget progresses, legislative Democrats have issued some criticism of the leadership of the Department of Corrections, especially Director Charles Ryan, and called the system dangerous. Ryan has been in that job for 10 years and has some major accomplishments, although recently some lock problems have come to light. This all points out the advantages of private prisons. They bring efficiency and a lack of politics, although most experts acknowledge that some parts of corrections clearly should stay with the government.
We hope that soon the Legislature is able to finish the budget and, along with that, its work. That usually causes many Arizonans to breathe a sigh of relief. We hope that corrections officers get strong consideration in the budget, including those who do not get a paycheck directly from the state.