Tuesday, August 14, 2007

You get what you pay for: Parker County privatizes local jail on the cheap

In Parker County, a contract to privatize operation of the county jail supposedly will save the county a boatload of money, reports the Fort Worth Star Telegram ("Private company will operate jail," Aug. 14), but to me something about the deal doesn't pass the smell test. Reported the Startlegram:
The county will pay CiviGenics $39 per inmate per day -- $44 if the jail is full and inmates must be housed elsewhere. The county currently spends $56 per inmate per day.

CiviGenics will also take over from the Sheriff's Department the transportation of inmates to court, to medical appointments and to Texas Department of Criminal Justice facilities. During the first year, the county should save around $700,000 in salaries and benefits because most jail employees will work for CiviGenics instead of the county.

The sheriff will hire a contract monitor to make sure CiviGenics is in compliance.
I'm highly skeptical of claims that CiviGenics can supply the same services as the county for $17 less - that's a 30% reduction from what the county says it spends now. So is it really possible CiviGenics can perform the same function for 30% less money and actually turn a profit? I find that hard to believe.

Instead, I think taxpayers will likely continue to subsidize the jail beyond the $39 per inmate. Of course, for starters there's the cost of the monitor. And I wonder if that $39 includes all healthcare costs? If CiviGenics cuts corners there, one lawsuit could more than wipe out any short-term savings the county enjoys.

Certainly taxpayers are still liable for any extant bond debt and maintenance costs. What expenditures go into that which aren't included in the $39 figure, I wonder?

What's more, this won't really save taxpayers money. The Sheriff doesn't plan on eliminating deputies' positions by turning the jail over to CiviGenics, but "increasing the number of deputies who patrol county roads." Taxpayers will still foot the bill for their salaries, which are a major portion of of jail costs (plus new patrol-related equipment costs) on top of the salaries for the privatized jailers. So let's be clear: In the end, taxpayers will pay more.

I also notice from a quick search at Texas Prison Bidness that CiviGenics' record as a Texas jailer recently hasn't been spotless, as depicted in posts here and here:
  • "A CiviGenics guard at the Bowie County Correctional Center annex was arrested for allegedly trying to smuggle marijuana, tobacco and cigars into the jail (2007)"
  • In Texarkana, "A former CiviGenics jailer was arrested for violating the civil rights of a female prisoner; the jailer was accused of sexual activity with a person in custody (2005)"
  • Also in Texarkana, "Three prisoners, including a murder suspect, escaped and were loose for 28 hours (2004)"
  • At a Civigenics unit n Waco, "A guard was indicted for having sex with a female prisoner (2004)"
  • Also in Waco, "A prisoner who escaped was charged with killing a woman while he was a fugitive and a guard was charged with facilitating the escape (2001)"
Existing CiviGenics facilities in Texas are identified in purple on the map at this TPB post. They're already managing several county jails, but I've never seen any evaluation that singles out their or other private companies' performance compared to government operated jails.

In June, CiviGenics was purchased by a company called Community Education Centers, Inc., and is re-branding itself as "the largest offender reentry services company in the United States." I'll bet for $39 per head their Parker County contract won't provide many re-entry services.


Anonymous said...

It's called 'pencil-whipping'. They get things done on paper, but charge you for just as much as if they'd done it for real.

This is common in government contracts. Simply pencil-whip the results and bill the G.

When we were little children it was called 'pretending'.

Anonymous said...

Is Community Education Centers the "son of" Community Education Partners?

If so, we must remember that these people burned permanent federal Special Education records when they were removed from Dallas ISD.