Flawed AZ Study Skews Dialogue on Corrections Privatization

Earlier this year the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) released a provocative, but flawed study claiming that per capita prisoner costs in Arizona’s private prisons are higher than state-run prisons. However, there were a number of methodological problems with this widely-cited study that led to inaccurate public-private cost comparisons.

Unfortunately, the Arizona’s Auditor General relied on the flawed ADC study in its recent performance audit of the department. The audit admittedly “did not assess the (ADC’s) method for adjusting the per capita rates for comparing state-operated and private prison costs.”

But that hasn’t stopped the media from reporting it. Just yesterday, the Auditor General’s review was cited by Arizona CBS affiliate KPHO in a report entitled, “Audit: Private Prisons Cost Slightly More.” A spokesperson for Gov. Jan Brewer responded to the KPHO story saying the governor has commissioned another prison cost-comparison study.

The governor’s office should be commended for taking a closer look at this data, because it seems to have skewed the dialogue on privatization of correctional facilities in that state. Earlier today I posted a commentary on detailing the mistakes made in the ADC’s original study — that commentary is available here.

Harris Kenny is a state and local government policy analyst at Reason Foundation, a non-profit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.

Harris has worked alongside policymakers in Colorado, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, Oregon and elsewhere to implement public policy solutions. Harris is currently serving as a member of the Local Authority Working Group of Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper's Amendment 64 Task Force, which is providing guidance on implementing recreational marijuana legalization. He conducts research on public finance, public-private partnerships, privatization, public safety, criminal justice and regulatory policy issues.

Harris has appeared on various television and radio outlets, such as National Public Radio, HuffPost Live, Al Jazeera, Voice of Russia and Colorado Public Television. His writing has been published in The Wall Street Journal, The Denver Post, The Sacramento Bee, The Orange County Register, Real Clear Markets,, and other print and online outlets. He also serves as co-editor of Reason Foundation's Annual Privatization Report ( and Innovators in Action ( publications.

Prior to joining Reason Foundation, Harris worked at the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation. He earned a BA in Economics from Pepperdine University, where he worked as a research assistant to Dr. Luisa Blanco at Pepperdine University's School of Public Policy.

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