Judge tosses out lawsuit against state’s private prisons

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By Howard Fischer | Capitol Media Services 

A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit claiming that private prisons used by the state violate constitutional protections including a prohibition against slavery.

In an extensive ruling, Judge Douglas Rayes rejected arguments made by attorneys for the state NAACP that because the private prisons benefit financially from their contracts with the state they are getting the “fruits of prisoners’ economic value and labor.” The lawyers also argued that those contracts have effectively transformed the prisoners into property.

But Rayes said none of that provides evidence that the arrangement violates the Thirteenth Amendment prohibition against slavery.

“Plaintiffs have not alleged any facts showing the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry prisoners in private prisons are forced to perform labor akin to traditional notions of slavery or involuntary servitude,” the judge wrote. Instead, he said, the plaintiffs “present a novel legal theory that mere confinement in a private prison reduces a prisoner to a commodity.”

The ruling drew an angry response from Charles Fanniel, president of the state NAACP.

“His suggestion that there is no proof that African Americans are discriminated against in the criminal justice system is so completely out of touch with reality it suggests other factors at work,” he said in a prepared statement.

Contacted by Capitol Media Services, Fanniel declined to explain what “other factors” he believes influenced the judge’s decision.

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