The Hawaii Department of Public Safety has signed a short-term deal with Corrections Corporation of America, the largest for-profit prison company in the country, to extend an existing contract to house up to 1,926 Hawaii prisoners in Arizona.

The move buys the department more time to reach an agreement with CCA on the terms of a new contract to maintain the state’s mainland prison operation.

Under the department’s request for proposals, released March 2, a new contract was supposed to be executed by the end of last week — before the existing contract, signed in 2011, was set to expire June 30. But Toni Schwartz, public safety spokeswoman, said the negotiation is still ongoing.

Critics have called on the department to improve inspection and oversight requirements in the new contract, but prison officials have declined to discuss what new conditions, if any, they might seek to impose.

The state’s procurement rules allow an existing contract to be extended for up to six months, so long as a new contract is being finalized.

But the department opted for an extension lasting only 31 days — or fewer, depending on when a new contract is signed with CCA, the sole bidder for the deal.

Saguaro Correctional Center, Eloy, Arizona patrol. 5 march 2016. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
In 1998, Hawaii began sending its prisoners to prisons operated by Corrections Corporation of America, of Nashville, Tennessee, the country’s largest for-profit prison company. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The state’s relationship with CCA dates to 1998, when the Nashville, Tennessee-based company began housing Hawaii prisoners at the Prairie Correctional Facility in Minnesota. The state has since gone on to use eight other CCA prisons across six states.

During the past five years, Hawaii prisoners have been consolidated at two CCA-run prisons — the Saguaro Correctional Center and the Red Rock Correctional Center, both located in Eloy, Arizona, about 70 miles southeast of Phoenix.

As of June 20, CCA housed 1,387 Hawaii prisoners — about a quarter of the state’s inmate population — at Saguaro.

Until last week, the state was paying CCA a per-diem rate of $70.49 per prisoner — an arrangement that amounted to just under $31 million in fiscal year 2015, which ended June 30, 2015. The total for fiscal year 2016 isn’t yet available.

Under the extension signed last week, the per-diem rate was set to $72.25 per prisoner, as required by an automatic escalator clause that guarantees an annual increase of between 2.5 percent and 3 percent.

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