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Private Prison Company Used in Drug Raids at Public High School

Corrections Corporation of America used in drug sweeps of public school students in Arizona.

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According to Anderson, the Vista Grande High School raid is unlikely to be the last instance of CCA partnership with local law enforcement, as he assumed CGPD would use the corporation's canine teams again, if needed.

And, according to Hamilton, he requested and had executed "drug sweeps" utilizing CCA canine units "two or three times a year," while serving as principal at Coolidge High School in Coolidge, Arizona -- also located in Pinal County, roughly ten miles from the private prison mecca of Florence. Hamilton was principal at Coolidge High School from 2003 through 2007.

CCA did not respond to multiple requests for comment regarding their involvement in law enforcement operations at public schools in Pinal County.

Conflict of Interest: From the Cradle to the Cell

According to Anderson, three students were arrested as a result of the October 31 Vista Grande raid: two female students, ages 15 and 17, as well as one 15-year-old male. According to Anderson, the 15-year-old female was found in possession of .10 grams of marijuana; the 15-year-old male student was found in possession of .50 grams of marijuana; and the 17-year-old female was found in possession of 10 ounces of marijuana. According to Anderson, this last quantity was "individually packaged." 



According to Anderson, the students were referred to the juvenile division of Pinal County Superior Court. All students were then released to their parents/legal guardians. 

According to Hamilton, the school will commence expulsion hearings against all students arrested.

It is worth noting that, while (as of November 12, 2012) charges have yet to be filed against students arrested in the October 31 Vista Grande drug raid, it is possible, under Arizona law, for the 17-year-old female allegedly found to be in possession of 10 ounces of "individually packaged" marijuana to be sentenced as an adult if charged with possession with intent to distribute -- a felony which would could carry a prison sentence.

In addition, it is important to note that, under Arizona law, individuals arrested for illicit activity/possession of illicit substances on or near school grounds may face "drug-free school zone" sentencing enhancements. Those convicted of drug (including marijuana) offenses in Arizona courts, and sentenced through the stringent criteria of "drug-free school zone" sentencing enhancements, lose the possibility of sentence suspension, parole, or probation (which would rule out the possibility of a deferral or diversion). This sentencing enhancement also adds a mandatory year to any prison sentence handed down by the court.

While the recently-awarded 1,000 CCA Arizona prison beds have yet to come into operation, it is exactly this kind of low risk, minimum to medium security prisoner that corporations such as CCA derive much of their profit from.

Furthermore, according to Anderson, the Vista Grande High School marijuana arrests have sparked a broader, ongoing investigation.

Given the fact that such high school raids may serve as the foundation for larger narcotics investigations which may net additional adult offenders -- and given the tremendous pressure for information a prosecutor may exert on a student through discretionary use of "drug-free school zone" sentencing enhancements -- concerned citizens say that CCA's involvement in such raids constitutes a clear conflict of interest.

"They're [CCA] not the criminal justice system. They are benefactors of the criminal justice system," said correctional specialist and prison reform advocate, Carl Toersbijns.

Toersbijns, now retired (he retired in 2010), served as a deputy warden of operations at ADC-operated Arizona State Prison (ASP) Eyeman, as a deputy warden of operations at ASP Safford, as a deputy warden of operations at New Mexico Department of Corrections-operated Western New Mexico Correctional Facility (Grants, New Mexico), and as an associate warden at the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility (at Los Lunas, New Mexico). Collectively, Toersbijns' career in corrections has spanned over 25 years in both Arizona and New Mexico. Such work, said Toersbijns, has entailed everything from details with prison canine units, to prison gang units.

 
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