Over the 4th of July weekend, riots broke out at a private state prison near Kingman, Arizona. Special forces were called in to restore order. Now, a new report says that the government’s response may have been worse than the riots themselves.
The new report from the American Friends Service Committee on the Kingman riot, the law enforcement response, and the aftermath, raises doubts about Arizona’s private prison operators’ ability to run facilities that are “safe, cost effective, humanely run, and accountable to the public.” State legislators there are currently considering accepting bids for private prisons to hold 2,000 more prisoners. The report says that MTC, the company that ran the 3,500-bed Kingman prison, had had a history of security problems in the facility, with more than a dozen instances in the past decade of of “large groups of inmates refusing directives or chasing MTC staff off the yard.” In 2010, the prison saw both an escape and a violent brawl in which 150 inmates participated.
In this riots, which spread over two days, five officers were injured. Nearly 100 SWAT-style officers from the state Department of Corrections were called in to quell the disturbance, and more than 1,000 prisoners eventually had to be transferred to other facilities due to property damage. But here is where the narrative gets interesting: “By most accounts, it is clear that the riots were motivated by prisoner frustration with MTC’s management and the actions of its guards. This frustration was directed at the physical facilities themselves. There were no altercations among prisoners.”
In fact, the report says that the riot was not only spurred by inmate anger at the brutality of guards (such as routine and unnecessary overuse of pepper spray), but that the law enforcement reaction to the riot was itself brutal, “to the point where prisoners who were completely incapacitated were still being beaten, tazed, and shot with rubber bullets.” Here is a portion of one prisoner’s account of what happened:
They guy next to me didn’t speak any English and when they came to his house and told him to get up off the ground and he didn’t respond they kicked him in the head and shot him twice and screamed at him again and again to get up. I yelled that he doesn’t speak any English and they kicked him again and shot him 4 more times and said “Do you speak English now mother- [expletive]?” Still he didn’t move so they dragged him out.
The kid that came out right behind me had his head slammed in to the metal bars on the windows and had to get 8 staples in his head. He now has a 4 inch scar on his head… The man next to me was kicked so many times I thought they broke his ribs. A young black kid not far from me was on the ground and made the mistake of asking an officer to please loosen up his cuffs his hands were numb, the officer walked over kicked him in the face and told him to “shut up [expletive] and move your [expletive] ass closer to the guy next to you.”
If a few state prisoners won a few million dollars in lawsuits due to police brutality, you can believe that private prisons would do a better job of discouraging police brutality. As it is now, it’s still profitable.