Photo: Flickr – miss_millions
Last December New Hampshire’s Department of Corrections issued three Requests for Proposals (RFP) to outsource all of its prison operations to one very lucky private corrections contractor.The state has spent months soliciting bids to build and manage a men’s prison, a women’s facility, and a hybrid unit that would house both women and men.
Despite having an inmate population of 2,500—one that has fallen by 13 per cent since last year—New Hampshire plans to contract nearly 3,000 beds with the winner.
With the April deadline for proposals having passed, New Hampshire is now hard at work evaluating bids from four companies: Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the GEO Group, Management and Training Corporation (MTC), and the Hunt Group/Lasalle Corrections.
The various offers were allegedly so complex that New Hampshire’s five-member Executive Council approved hiring a private consultant to help the state review proposals from several companies interested in building, owning, and operating its prisons. In late July the council permitted spending $171,347 to hire consultant MGT of America, based in Tallahassee, Florida, to weigh in on the potential cost savings incurred by privatization.
The consultant’s report is due in late September and the state says that it plans to reach a decision before the New Year.
The choice to privatize the state’s prison operations will ultimately be made by the legislature’s Executive Council, a committee responsible for adjudicating all state procurements over $10,000. With a simple majority of three votes the Executive Council could choose to privatize New Hampshire’s entire prison system without a direct vote by the legislature or without a bond issuance—general obligation or lease revenue, take your pick—approved by voters.
In an effort to avoid revenue increases in a tax averse state (New Hampshire doesn’t levy income or general sales tax) lawmakers estimated that they could save around $5 million by passing a bill allowing New Hampshire to transport almost 600 inmates out-of-state.
Critics of the measure argued that shipping prisoners beyond state lines would fracture families and therefore increase recidivism among out-of-state inmates paroling back to New Hampshire. Ballooning rates of recidivism, they contended, would cost the state even more money.
After the bill was defeated, crestfallen lawmakers immediately turned their attention to the idea of privatizing prisons.
Although New Hampshire isn’t home to any privately run prisons at present, 30-two states use privatized corrections in one form or another. And seven states—New Mexico, Montana, Alaska, Vermont, Hawaii, Idaho, and Mississippi—house over 25 per cent their prisoners in private facilities.
The federal government—the private prison industry’s biggest single customer—relies on them to contain 16 per cent of its prisoners.
But it’s unclear if companies like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) or the GEO Group—the two largest prison contractors respectively reporting $1.7 and $1.6 billion in revenue in 2011—will actually save New Hampshire money.
While dated governmental studies on the potential cost savings associated with prison privatization are inconclusive, recent research seems to suggest that private prisons are actually more expensive than their public counterparts when all external factors are considered.
In 2010 the Arizona Department of Corrections found that inmates in private prisons can cost as much as $1,600 more per year those housed in state-operated facilities.
And earlier this spring the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) found that Arizona is actually hemorrhaging money—$3.5 million a year, to be precise—by turning their inmates over to for-profit corporations.
Finally, Kentucky’s state Department of Corrections estimates that private prisons can cost up to $10 more per prisoner, per day.
Even CCA’s chief spokesperson, Steve Owen, has been quoted in the New York Times admitting that “there is a mixed bag of research out there. It’s not as black and white and cut and dried as we would like.”
Whatever the outcome, it’s a bit ironic that New Hampshire, the “Live Free or Die” state famous for its libertarian and anti-corporatist heritage, might very well be the first to hand over its entire inmate population to one of four companies whose operations together account for 90 per cent of private prison market share.
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