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PHOENIX (AP) -- The Department of Corrections is considering bids from three private firms to build and run a prison for more than three thousand female inmates.
If approved and built, the new 3,200-bed prison would overtake Goodyear's 2,434-inmate Perryville complex as the nation's largest state prison for women.
Cornell Cos., of Houston, Texas; Management and Training Corp., of Centerville, Utah; and Correctional Services Corp., of Sarasota, Fla., have all submitted bids for the project.
Proposed sites include Mobile in Maricopa County and sites in both Pima and Pinal Counties which are near the Pinal Air Park, near Marana.
It's unclear how much the project will cost, but state legislators have given approval for corrections officials to hire private companies for jail services.
"We ought to tap into the private sector to help us out here, because we definitely have a serious problem," said Sen. Robert Burns, R-Peoria, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
With 39,076 inmates now in state prisons, the system is already over capacity by 4,048 inmates, said Daryl Fischer, research manager with the Department of Corrections.
Although female prisoners comprise about 8.5 percent of the total jail population, the number of female prisoners is expected to increase by 16.4 percent over the next five years, Fischer said.
Currently, there are about 2,600 female inmates. That number has increased by about 22 women on average every month over the past year, said Arizona Department of Corrections spokesman Mike Arra.
But the proposed private jail has garnered opposition by groups including The American Friends Service Committee, which espouses a more humane and rehabilitative criminal justice system.
"This is what we are characterizing as a dangerous experiment," said Caroline Isaacs, the Tucson chapter's criminal justice program coordinator.
The three bids will be reviewed by two legislative committees, the attorney general's office and the Department of Corrections.
Members of the public will also have opportunities to comment on the project.
If ultimately approved, a company could be chosen by the end of the year and the jail could open by mid-2005.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)