Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Lives of the Saints: Private Prison Edition

Earning him a nomination, to be certain, for Patron Saint of the Texas Prison Bidness Blog, state Rep. "Mando" Martinez yesterday filed HB 2589 that reads like a wish list for private prison reform advocates.

It requires a public hearing in each commissioner's precinct before counties approve contracts with private prison firms. It disallows local officials like Sheriffs to personally benefit from private prison deals involving the county jail, as was happening for a while, for example, in Waco.

And my own personal, sentimental favorite is the open records portion of the bill: "Information collected, assembled, or maintained by a private entity that is not a governmental body in connection with the operation, maintenance, repair, or construction of a detention facility or related facility operated under contract with the county under this subchapter is subject to Chapter 552, Government Code, in the same manner as information collected, assembled, or maintained by a governmental body, but only if the information is related to the operation, maintenance, repair, or construction of the facility." That makes sense on (at least) two levels. One, the taxpayers should get to know what they're paying for. Two, private prison contracts require oversight or they can devolve into an ugly mess, so making such  records open lets outside researchers, advocates, journalists, etc., assist in that already public function. (Think of it as crowdsourcing.)

That said, sainthood requires two miracles. Filing such legislation may earn Martinez beatification, but passing it would be the second miracle that will allow our friends at TPB to begin work on his hagiography. Either way, that's a really good bill.

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