As a result, no tool exists to determine if there is a cost savings for taxpayers. Arizona corrections officials have acknowledged that private prisons have lower costs because they only will take inmates with little to no health or mental health problems, which drives down their medical expenses. Oklahoma also keeps such inmates mainly in state-run prisons.
During his tenure in Arizona, Patton has seen firsthand the growth of private prisons.
Arizona’s first contract prison opened in southern Arizona near Tucson in October 1994, 10 months after a “truth in sentencing” law went into effect that dramatically increased prison sentences and the state’s inmate population.
Since fiscal 1995, the number of in-state private-prison inmates has grown from 273 to nearly 6,800. Arizona also contracted to house inmates with out-of-state private prisons from fiscal 2004 to 2010.
Arizona’s private prison operators are Corrections Corporation of America, the GEO Group Inc. and Management & Training Corp. The GEO Group and CCA also operate facilities in Oklahoma, along with Avalon Correctional Services.
“Private prisons are here to stay. Anybody who says differently doesn’t understand,” Patton said.
Patton was born in 1963 in Safford, a small, rural community in southeast Arizona, and spent most of his childhood there. He was the third of five children to a homemaker and an itinerant Baptist preacher who took odd jobs to support his family.
Patton said one of the biggest vices was “getting in a little bit of trouble for drag racing down Main Street.”
As a sophomore, his family moved to Friona, Texas, another small town, when he graduated and then went into the Navy.
After ending his military service, he became a state correctional officer in Safford.
“My career aspirations when I came to work for this department were to be a lieutenant before I retired,” Patton said. “With each promotion, I would see the person above me and I would say ‘I could do that job.’ And that is what has driven me.”