Let’s Close the Door on Prison Privatization

State has dropped bid to privatize for now; we must push for Senate to adopt ban

Following the news Wednesday that the state was for the time being dropping its bid to privatize state prisons, a coalition of organizations opposing prison privatization is calling for the state to adopt a ban and effectively close the door on the issue.

The State Prison for Men in Concord is shown. The state had considered allowing private corporations to build and run new prisons, but backed off after all proposals fell short of expectations.

HB 443 would put an end to the debate by prohibiting prison privatization altogether in New Hampshire. The bill readily passed the NH House of Representatives and will next be considered by the state’s Senate. There is a public hearing scheduled with the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, April 9 at 1 p.m. in State House Room 103. We’ve talked quite a bit here about prison privatization, and we encourage members to speak out against it at the hearing or to reach out to the senators on the Finance Committee (see committee members here).

On Wednesday, the state released a long-awaited report from an out-of-state consultant that reviewed proposals for for-profit prison expansion and capacity that the state received last year. (You can find the consultant’s report and the state’s report here.)

MGT of America of Tallahassee, Fla., said that not one of the proposals met compliance with all of the necessary requirements to effectively, safely and legally construct or manage the state’s prisons. The company was paid to provide detailed evaluation of the design/build components of the proposals; evaluation of the operational components; and a financial analysis.

All of them “had deficiencies from an operational standpoint,” according to MGT.

Specifically, according to a parallel report released by the Departments of Corrections and Administrative Services, “all were non-compliant with meeting the Department of Corrections’ legal obligations.”

“More specifically, the proposals exhibited a lack of understanding of the overarching legal requirements placed upon the DOC relating to the court orders, consent decrees and settlements which, in large part, dictate the administration and operation of their correctional facilities and attendant services to the inmate populations,” the state agencies said.

MGT found that the private for-profit vendors planned to pay substandard wages that “may make it difficult to maintain a trained and experienced staff.  This could result in high turnover and ultimately impact the safety and security of the correctional facilities.”

“The state should be concerned that this significantly lower wage may make it difficult to maintain a trained and experienced staff. This could result in high turnover and ultimately impact the safety and security of the correctional facilities,” MGT added.

“In prior MGT studies of private correctional facility operations,” the report elaborated, “we have found private correctional facilities with annual staff turnover rates of 42 percent compared to 13.3 percent for nearby public facilities. High turnover, which can result from non-competitive compensation levels, produces a chronically inexperienced work force with direct implications for the integrity of facility security and safety. Low compensation levels can also make staff recruitment more difficult, resulting in staff vacancies and reliance on overtime, which again has a negative impact upon facility security.”

The state’s report leaves open the possibility that the state would entertain privatization as an option at some point in the future. This is not the first time the idea of privatizing prisons has been raised in the state.  Each time it has been considered, it has been determined that it is not the appropriate path for NH.

SEA President Diana Lacey said the bidding process was carried out under a veil of secrecy, and as of this moment, this process could repeat itself.

“Taxpayer money was spent on it and yet no transparent public policy debate in support of the concept occurred, and more may be spent again and again with the same secrecy surrounding the work if we do not adopt an affirmative policy on this issue once and for all,” Lacey said.

Arnie Alpert, the NH program coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee, noted that the state has devoted considerable resources to exploring privatization.

“Hopefully we will not be spending state dollars on considering this option anymore,” Alpert said. “This report takes privatization off the table. Now it’s time to close the door.”

Peg Fargo, vice president of the NH League of Women Voters, said she was pleased the state can now focus on a publicly constructed and run women’s prison, which was included in the capital budget approved by the House on Wednesday.

“Build it tomorrow!” Fargo said, adding that the League is also hoping that HB 443 will pass “so we do not have to give for-profit prisons any more consideration.  We know they are not less expensive. They are not safe for our communities. And, they are morally wrong. It’s time to move forward.”

NHPrisonWatch, the coalition of organizations opposed to prison privatization include the NH League of Women Voters, NH AFSC, Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform, the NH State Employees’ Association, the NH Civil Liberties Union, and the NH Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, among others. You can find more background on this issue at the coalition’s website, http://nhprisonwatch.org/.

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