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In Wake Of Riot, Ariz. Governor Fires For-Profit Prison Firm


For three days last month, riots took hold of a prison in Arizona. Sixteen people were injured. Twelve-hundred inmates were evacuated. Much of the facility itself was left uninhabitable. This week, the state's governor, Doug Ducey, fired the private company that had been running Kingman Prison.


DOUG DUCEY: Our actions should send a loud warning shot to all prison operators. Fail in your job, and we will hold you accountable. Risk public safety, and we will end your relationship with the state of Arizona.

CORNISH: A state review of what went wrong revealed longtime trouble brewing at Kingman under the for-profit prison firm named Management and Training Corporation, or MTC. For more detail, we turn to Alexandra Olgin of member station KJZZ in Phoenix. Alexandra, welcome to the program.


CORNISH: So tell us what this report says about the conditions at the prison in terms of how inmates were treated or - what kicked this off?

OLGIN: Yeah. The report found the prison was understaffed, and corrections officers worked a lot of overtime with little training. They were poorly paid, and there was very little supervision and communication from MTC leadership. The report also found, earlier this year, inmates in a unit actually went on a hunger strike to protest the food. One other thing the report said, which was actually pretty scathing, was their targeted destruction of MTC property strongly suggested the riots were brought on by inmate dissatisfaction with the way the prison was operated. There was a culture of disorganization, disengagement and disregard for Department of Corrections policies.

Now, all of that brewing over here, the actual cause of the riots were racial tensions in the prison yard and conflicts between corrections officers and inmates, and the riot sort of grew out of that.

CORNISH: So give us the context here. How big is MTC, and what, if any, problems have they had at other prisons?

OLGIN: MTC operates two of the private prisons that are operated here in Arizona. Now, the facility doesn't have a great track record with this one up in Kingman. In 2010, three inmates escaped and actually ended up murdering a couple in New Mexico. Earlier this year, another inmate was killed at the prison.

Now, after the 2010 incident of the escape, there was a review of the facility done, and there were several areas that the review found that staff wasn't compliant with Department of Corrections policies. Now, the report that happened after the 2015 riots actually found that the prison was still non-compliant with more than a third of the issues that were pointed out in 2010.

CORNISH: So the Governor terminated the contract for this particular prison. But has this changed his thinking at all about private prison companies in general?

OLGIN: So the governor did order a review of all the private prison operating facilities statewide. But what is interesting is that he is still continuing with a bid for another 2,000-bed prison operated by some other private prison company. And also, this current facility up in Kingman - the contract had been terminated with MTC, but they're actually looking now to contract that out to another private prison operator.

CORNISH: So what's his argument there? I mean, is he taking any criticism for that?

OLGIN: He is taking criticism. Critics are saying, you know, this is just a problem that's going to happen over and over again with these private facilities. Critics are also saying that the Department of Corrections is actually shifting some blame. They're in charge of making sure that these private prison operators keep everything under control and up to compliance.

And one thing that was actually pointed out in the report is that the Department of Corrections said that MTC portrayed a facade of desired in-compliance when Department of Corrections investigators were there, but then when investigators left, they reverted to this culture of disengagement. And critics are saying, well, it's really Department of Corrections' job to make sure they're in compliance when monitors are there and when they're not.

CORNISH: That's Alexandra Olgin of member station KJZZ in Phoenix. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

OLGIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.