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New Hampshire Moving Ahead with Prison Privatization Plans

11:09 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

First published on WhyIHateCCA

New Hampshire’s legislature and governor have been looking to privatize much, if not all, of the state’s prison system for the past few months. The state submitted a request for proposals in April, and in May announced a new proposal to send all male prisoners to private facilities.

Apparently not content with just considering prison privatization proposals, New Hampshire wants to partially privatize the process of figuring out the bids.  The state expects the process to take about 2.5 months and is seeking technical assistance to sort through the plethora of information they’ll receive responsive to the request for proposals.  The consultant, the only one who bid, was just awarded a contract for nearly $175,000.  The state had actually asked 3 other companies to bid, but they all declined.  A spokesperson for one of the companies that turned down the state said they did so because they didn’t want to be involved in a process where “the job would go to the lowest bidder.”  I’m sure this in no way could lead to a conflict of interest or poor decision-making by the state.

CCA and MTC appear to be at the forefront of the cash grab; CCA is looking into 3 sites, and MTC seems pretty competitive in the bidding process.  Folks in New Hampshire are becoming a little frustrated with the process and its lack of transparency; an agency within the executive branch has the authority to award the contract with little to no public discussion of the potential risks and ramifications.  This is especially troubling given the industry’s propensity to not save money and have higher rates of incidents like assaults, escapes, and other security issues.

A Glimpse Inside the Private Prison Industry’s Influence in Florida

10:37 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

President of the Florida Senate, Mike Haridopolous

First published on WhyIHateCCA

Florida’s leadership is among the most aggressive in the nation in trying to bring private prisons to the state.  The governor, speaker of the house, former speaker of the house, and a host of Republicans in the legislature repeatedly attempted to force through what would have been the largest wholesale privatization of prisons in US history.  Though those measures failed, a battle is still being waged in court over the abuse of the political process by Republicans who tried to force the privatization by putting it into the budget and bypassing the committee that would have normally reviewed it.  The state is now also moving forward with plans to privatize 20 work release centers of the 21 that are still operated by the state, possibly because Governor Scott seems downright determined to put state employees out of work.  Lest you think I’m being unfair, a DOC spokeswoman said the state wasn’t likely to save any money in the process, which would have theoretically been the only justifiable reason to do so.

The industry has fared rather well in the state despite the failure to pass the wholesale privatization, but not quite as well as it has with the federal government in taking responsibility for incarcerating immigration detainees.

The GEO Group has been particularly successful in both these arenas, due in large part to the amount of influence it peddles throughout governments.  This influence was apparent during the 2010 election cycle, when the company donated more than $800,000 to campaigns in Florida.  But what’s not quite as easy to see is how these companies also gain political influence by having favorable people, and sometimes previous employees, placed in positions of power.  Take for example the chief of staff to young Republican superstar Marco Rubio, Cesar Conda.  Conda still maintains ties to a powerful lobbying firm in Florida that has lobbied for the GEO Group.  In fact, he still maintains partial ownership, and was paid between $50,000-$100,000 by the firm after he became Rubio’s chief of staff..  So he’s still being paid by companies like the GEO Group while working as the number-one guy to a US Senator.

So the GEO Group has revenues of nearly $2 billion per year, much of which comes from the federal government as payment for detaining immigrants.  It has spent more than $5 million in lobbying and political contributions in the past 8 years, a small fraction of their overall revenue, and in doing so has greatly expanded its role in the immigration detention system.  They also now have a paid lobbyist working in the office of a Republican Senator at the forefront of the immigration debate, in a state with major immigration issues.

In the state legislature meanwhile, President of the Senate Mike Haridopolous, one of the biggest proponents of the aforementioned failed privatization measure, has a really cozy relationship with a lobbyist as well.  He steered millions of dollars to a company that monitors juveniles for the state, after it had come to light that the company had failed to meet many of the terms of its contract.  But he went a step further – he removed the competitive bidding process as a last-minute budget move (sounds familiar…), assuring the company, which employes his close friend as a lobbyist, would maintain the contract.  The secretary of the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice even wrote that “the use of this exemption from competitive procurement may not be in the best interest of the state.”

Is Michigan Going Back on Its Word?

9:22 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

First published on WhyIHateCCA

The state of Michigan for some reason thinks it should contract out high-security beds to a private company, expecting to save about $1.3 million per year in operations. Aside from the reality that those savings will probably never materialize, the state should be wary of proceeding with such a plan considering the industry’s consistent failures to maintain adequate levels of well-trained staff, which could prove extremely risky with high-security prisoners.  A few years back, corrections officials had promised residents that security of the facility would be the top priority, as residents were worried about the potential risks to public safety inherent in bringing in a private, for-profit company to operate it.

Over the next few years, the state gradually reduced security at the facility, moving away from constant patrols to more mechanical security instruments.  Now, it wants to not only privatize security staff at the facility, but medical and mental health treatment as well.  Local leaders are upset at these recent developments, particularly because they have seen how privatization has failed to save money in many other states. Many of the COs currently employed at the facility would likely either lose their jobs or face significant reductions in pay and benefits, the area in which private prison companies are able to reduce expenses most easily (by just cutting them).

So add me to the list of people who hope the state decides to keep to its word and ensure the facility remains secure (i.e. not privatized).

Effing Arizona.

7:17 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

First published on WhyIHateCCA

Sometimes, a story comes along that really makes me wonder whether a lot of politicians just really don’t give a shit about people at all.  And no, I’m not even talking about how North Carolina decided it would be a good idea to codify discrimination in its frigging constitution.  I’m talking about the great state of Arizona, whose political leaders have given up their charade of pretending to represent their constituents.

Now, you might say that’s a bit of hyperbole, but how else can I explain the fact that, faced with evidence from numerous sources, including a government study, that demonstrated private prisons actually cost Arizona taxpayers more than government run facilities, the Arizona legislature decided to not only fund more private prisons, but to eliminate the requirement for the government to report on the efficiency and services it receives from the companies it contracts with to operate these money pits?

The industry is already exempt from public records laws that government agencies must adhere to, a distinction granted because it is comprised of private corporations (despite the fact that they perform an inherently governmental function).  So Arizona actually found what might have been the only way to further reduce transparency and oversight for an industry that’s not required to report much of anything about how it operates.

In addition to removing that reporting requirement, the budget that just passed allocated $16 million for 1,000 new private prison beds, while taking $50 million from funds intended to help struggling homeowners manage their mortgages.  That $16 million might go to MTC, the company that operates the Kingman prison, from which 3 prisoners escaped in 2010 in one of the most highly-publicized prison escapes in years (largely because they murdered an elderly couple).  Or it could go to CCA, the company that, despite all its denials about its influence on the legislation, was in the room when SB1070 was drafted and stands to profit handsomely from it.

In yet another example of the corrupting and toxic influence of money in government, this budget proposal was really the handiwork of Governor Brewer’s Chief of Staff, Chuck Coughlin.  Coughlin founded HighGround Consulting, the most powerful lobbying force in the state.  HighGround happens to represent the private prison industry.  A former CCA lobbyist, married to a current CCA lobbyist, also works on Brewer’s staff.  And John Kavanagh, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, is quite cozy with Public Policy Partners, a lobbying firm that represents the GEO Group.  So it naturally made sense for him to be the one to introduce the provision that eliminated the analyses of private prisons in the state.

I don’t even think it’s a question who Governor Brewer and the rest of the Republican establishment in Arizona represent.  And it’s a damn shame.  Thank god I don’t live there.

Is Louisiana on the Brink of a Terrible Decision?

6:51 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

Previously published on Why I Hate CCA

Photo by Robert Stringer

Louisiana, the state with the highest rate of incarceration in the country, is considering selling its Avoyelles Correctional Center to a private company in a vain effort to save money.  This was immediately panned as a terrible idea by many in central Louisiana (where the prison is located), including the union that represents COs (AFSCME) and a local mayor who is concerned about public safety issues if the privatization moves forward.  State legislators also voiced concerns about the privatization effort, after witnessing problems at current private prisons within the state; one went so far as to beg the legislature, “Don’t do this to the victims of crime all over Louisiana.“  A former legislator also lamented the prospect of forcing state employees to take jobs with less pay and benefits, but the bill passed the appropriations committee by a narrow vote.

The first incarnation of the bill to privatize the prison would have set the contract length at 30 years; thankfully, the bill’s sponsor had an epiphany of (some) common sense, and introduced an amendment that would prevent the prison from being sold (but not turning over its operation) and limit the contract to ten years.  A second amendment would also prevent a private company from charging a minimum occupancy rate, which could seriously undermine any company’s desire to undertake responsibility for the facility.  Which would be a wonderful development.

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Arizona’s Political Leaders are Crazy for Private Prisons

1:08 pm in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

Arizona’s Political Leaders Are Crazy for Private Prisons

Arizona

(Photo By tolomea via flickr)

I’ve been remiss in updating everyone on the situation in Arizona, the state that loves private prisons, even though it’s likely paying more for them than what the government could operate facilities for.  After a few reports came out detailing how the state was paying through the nose for private prisons, its legislature continued to bullishly forge ahead with a request for proposals to construct an additional 2,000 private prison beds.  This came despite evidence that private prisons in the state cost more and are more dangerous; the American Friends Service Committee filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction to prevent the state from entering into a new contract for these beds.  But it was thrown out on a technicality; the judge basically said that citizens of Arizona have no standing to ask the Department of Corrections to follow the law.

So the AFSC and the NAACP joined together in filing a formal protest asking the court put a stop to the request for proposals, which came alongside a piece of legislation designed to prevent the state from conducting cost comparisons in the future.  The Department of Corrections swiftly dismissed the request, again on a technicality basically amounting to “we don’t want to listen to socially conscious organizations working in the best interest of Arizona citizens.”  The state seems to be quite insistent on these new private prison beds, possibly because its politicians have long had cozy relationships with the industry.  From SB1070, which came out of ALEC, to the governor’s staff consisting of CCA lobbyists, Arizona politicians and the private prison industry are well acquainted.  In fact, Dennis Deconcini, a former senator from the state, sits on CCA’s board.  And it appears as though the state’s Chamber of Commerce is rife with conflicts of interest related to the industry; CCA, the GEO Group, and PHS are all represented on the board of the Chamber, either directly or through lobbying firms.

So it seems like Arizona’s political leaders are really just oblivious to common sense and the advice of groups who have thoroughly studied the problems inherent to the private prison industry.  I want to believe that, rather than the alternative, which would be that they just don’t care about how terrible and inefficient the industry is, because they want to give handouts to their political allies. As Sasha Abramsky at The Nation writes, “One might think that, faced with evidence that the state isn’t getting enough bang for its buck, Arizona legislators would rethink their commitment to putting ever mroe prisoners into private facilities.  Instead, in a move Orwellian even by the gutter standards of Arizona politics, they’ve simply tried to bar the state from collecting the evidence.

With all the news about the state attempting to further privatize its prison system, it might have been easy to overlook the state’s decision to bring in a private, for-profit medical care provider, Wexford, to manage healthcare for the entire system.  Which is just another clusterfuck waiting to happen.  The company will charge more than the state paid last year to provide healthcare this year, and estimates it will reap of profit of more than $5 million in the process.  I’m sure none of that will come from denying treatment or neglecting prisoners.

Idaho Should Rethink Its Relationship With Private Prisons

7:15 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

Idaho Should Rethink Its Relationship with Private Prisons

It turns out private prisons might cost more to operate than government ones in Idaho, according to a report from the Associated Press.  The thing is, Idaho hasn’t bothered to find out; the state has never conducted a cost comparison study despite elected officials’ claims that the industry saves it money.  The AP’s study attempted to compare costs at public and private prisons, but ran into the common obstacles facing researchers who try to compare costs.  Namely, the per diem paid by the state doesn’t account for oversight of the industry, CCA has a clause in its contract with the state that bars any prisoners with serious medical issues (thus placing a heavier financial burden on the state), and the private facility is much newer than state prisons (resulting in lower operating costs).

So the Board of Corrections has not yet allocated funds for a comparison, but a new board member says he’s willing to do so, and even went so far as to say he was “on the verge of calling [contracting with CCA] a failed experiment.”  He would seem to be correct in making such a claim – the state’s history with privatization is far from pretty.  For starters, it failed to ever conduct a cost comparison before privatizing in the late 90s, against the recommendation of a consultant hired to help with the transition.  It brought CCA in to run the Idaho Correctional Center, which became the target of a multiple of lawsuits alleging civil rights abuses and an FBI investigation.  Conditions became so bad that it was called “gladiator school” by the prisoners housed there, who would routinely suffer severe physical assaults while staff failed to intervene, sometimes even watching the beatings.  A class action lawsuit about the violence at ICC was settled out of court late last year, but details on that are unavailable because the judge sealed the settlement.

The time has come for Idaho to evaluate its relationship with CCA and privatization, as its prisons are currently operating at or near capacity and the state will likely need to open a new facility within the next few years to handle the anticipated rise in the population.  Particularly because the state legislature just allocated $29.8 million to the private prison fund for this coming year, a 3% increase over the last budget (that again won’t take into account the administrative costs of overseeing the prison).  This was the only item on the budget that didn’t pass unanimously, possibly because it’s about a million extra dollars going to CCA; 3 representatives voted against it.  Since private prisons have been found to cost as much or more than government ones in basically every study not funded by the industry, and given its track record of failing to properly operate prisons both in Idaho and elsewhere, the state should think long and hard about the 30 million taxpayer dollars it’s giving CCA to operate a prison that just a few short years ago had more violent assaults than all other state prisons combined.

Michigan Toying With Privatization, Again

1:40 pm in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

Michigan Toying With Privatization, Again

The Michigan legislature is currently considering legislation that would allow a currently empty GEO Group facility to once again house prisoners; the bills passed the senate narrowly but not the house (yet).  Under the legislation, a private prison operator would have to demonstrate savings of at least 10% in certain aspects of operations, so I assume this means no private prisons will open in Michigan (I kid, I kid! – they won’t care if it actually saves money).

In particular, the legislation would permit for the re-opening of a facility that used to house juveniles in Baldwin, MI (and which was for a time considered as a potential landing spot for those gitmo detainees that were supposed to have been transferred before Obama dropped the ball on that).  The prison closed about 8 years ago because it cost too much, but now the Michigan legislature is convinced, for some reason, that it won’t cost so much.  The bill doesn’t really seem to have any enforcement or accounting mechanism to ensure the state will save money (but that didn’t stop the Senate from passing it) and it doesn’t grant the Corrections Ombudsman permission to have any oversight of private prisons.  In fact, it expressly denounces the state’s responsibility to provide oversight of private prisons.  Because if there’s something an industry that’s been a proven failure for 3 decades needs, it’s less oversight.

FL Republicans Just Won’t Quit in Privatization Scheme

8:10 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

FL Republicans Just Won’t Quit

I’ll spare you a long recap of all the turmoil that keeps arising in Florida as Republicans try to repay the private prison industry for its generous campaign contributions (nearly $1 million in the 2010 cycle alone) by trying to force through the largest, most expansive prison privatization scheme in human history.

Long story short, they tried to force it through as a budget amendment last year, which the state supreme court ruled unconstitutional.  The head of the DOC lost his job for opposing that measure, because hey, who’s the head of the department of corrections to say that privatizing half the system is a bad idea?  After that shady deal failed, they tried to pass it through the legislature, but that plan was shot down by a group of legislators that hadn’t been bought off by the industry.  A state senator lost his chairmanship of a committee for opposing that measure.  So you would think that this would probably be an indication to the pro-privatization lobby in the legislature that turning over control of 24 or so prisons maybe isn’t in the best interest of Floridians, and that they should just stop.  Either that or all the evidence that came out showing the state hasn’t saved money from its past experiences with privatization, and that it would be on the hook for $25 million owed to state employees who would lose their jobs if the plan went through.

But no; privatization proponents know no bounds.  They tried to, once again, insert the privatization as a last-minute budget amendment.  That’s the same action that totally rubbed many people the wrong way, that had previously been ruled unconstitutional by the court. Thankfully, this measure was thwarted by some of the same politicians who have stood firm against the overwhelming influence of the industry, including Paula Dockery, who called the move “abhorrent.”  Which is a far nicer term than I would have used.

Diabolical Private Prison Scheme

10:40 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

CCA’s Diabolical Scheme

Now some of you might think that title is a bit of exaggeration; hyperbole, even.  But I assure you, it’s not.  See, CCA recently sent a letter to the governors of 48 states, offering to purchase prisons currently operated by state or local governments and operate the facilities.  That in theory may not sound so terrible, if you ignore all the issues that plague the private prison industry and its consistent failure to deliver on its promises of cost-savings.  But the letter, written by Harley Lappin, former director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (who coincidentally wrote a pretty scathing report of private prisons in that role), doesn’t just offer an influx of cash in the short-term for budget-crunched state officials.  Its true intention is much more sinister.

In order to get CCA to purchase a prison, a state or government entity that contracts with them will have to agree to maintain 90% occupancy at the prison, for a contract term of no less than 20 years.  What that means is that states who agree to sell a prison to CCA would commit a significant amount of fiscal resources to the company for the next two decades.  Governments would also be required to either redistribute prisoners from government prisons if the population declines (which is really important, considering state prison populations have declined for 2 straight years), or pay CCA for empty beds.  So what this letter really amounts to is offering a binding, generation-spanning commitment for governments to continue to financially support an industry that an increasing body of research shows doesn’t save money and performs less efficiently than the public sector.  Further, it would continue our nation’s over-reliance on incarceration as it would dissuade state legislators and officials from seeking meaningful criminal justice reform, by removing a primary incentive to reduce our absurdly overblown prison population.

Unfortunately, some governments have already started to be lured in by this asinine proposal; Tennessee state officials are considering selling the Clifton state prison to the company.  But as the plan’s true intentions became clear, a host of advocacy groups have started to speak out publicly in opposition to the proposal.  Letters from a coalition of faith-based groups and from civil rights and other advocacy organizations have come pouring into governors’ offices across the country. CCA is of course already lashing out at these groups with their typical criticism, but opponents should remain undeterred. Any state representative who even considers this proposal is, either willingly or not, considering the continuation of the foolishness that has caused the US to lead the entire world in locking its own people up.