Friday, April 01, 2011

Privatizing state jails no budget panacea

One of the amendments proposed to the House budget that's up today would mandate privatization of all Texas state jails. However, according to the indefatigable Brandi Grissom at the Texas Tribune, state Rep. Erwin Cain said "that he would rescind his amendment because of technical concerns about the language. Instead, he will attach the proposal to a corrections-related bill by state Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, the chairman of the House Corrections Committee."

From taxpayers' perspective, privatization of state jails make little sense for the same reason that buying your house is cheaper in the long-run than renting for thirty years. Companies may underbid in the short-term to get the business, but down the line when they raise rates you're then stuck with the privatized model. State Rep. Sylvester Turner told Grissom that "Past attempts at privatization ... have shown that companies are interested only in less expensive inmates. The state is left to shoulder the burden of housing the most-costly inmates: those who are sick and mentally ill. And, he said, there's no guarantee that private providers' rates won't skyrocket in the future." That issue of cherrypicking the least expensive and difficult inmates is exactly why private prisons' costs are lower.

As far as I can tell, the only way privatization would save significant sums under current circumstances is if the state closes some of its older, most expensive state-owned prisons built in the 19th and early 20th Centuries - which cost much more to operate than newer facilities because of their dated design - and shift those inmates to less expensive private beds. Many of those units also sit on substantial pieces of property that could be sold to raise money. By contrast, state jails were only invented in 1993. Closing state-owned units to privatize them makes about as much economic sense as selling a home you've already paid off to rent a similar house month-to-month.

What's really needed to save money in corrections is to reduce the number of prisoners. Privatizing state jails is more an ideological suggestion than a budgetary fix. I'm glad to hear the amendment today will be rescinded, and hopefully more considered thought will be given to this ill-conceived proposal before the idea gets too far.


Don said...

You are right. It's exactly what we don't need to do.

Prison Doc said...

In my experience in private facilities (8 yrs), the other way money is made is by offering no benefits, or very poor quality benefits, to employees thus significantly reducing personnel costs.

That's another reason I don't think privatization is going to fly right now.l

At least I'm hoping it won't.

Anonymous said...

Have you researched the amount of pay these private companies offer? I know there are folks out of work and more to come, but just exactly what in the way of quality in the workforce have these companies attracted.

One only needs to remember the article you wrote on the TDCJ turnover for 1-2 year employees and TDCJ pays considerably more with benefits.

Anonymous said...

Yje article went on to say Turner argued he has a more effective proposal. Many of the offenders in state jails, he said, are there because they committed technical violations of their probation terms.

Is that a true statement? I was not aware one could get probation upon conviction for a state jail felony. I thought all of those in state jail were those convicted and sentenced to state jail.

Anyway, I would like Turner to back up that statement with some numbers.

Don said...

1:31--You can get probation for a first offense on conviction of a State Jail Felony; in fact, it's required. But, you can only be revoked to a state jail if your offense was a state jail felony. So the only way you can be in state jail is on a second offense, or revocation, or both. The revocation might be on a technical violation, but I don't know what the percentage is.

Don said...

Many state jails are combination of state jail "detainees" and prison inmates. At least it was that way when I worked at the Formby unit in Plainview. In fact, there were more prison felons than state jail felons. It is true of most lockups that many are there because of "technical" violations. Don't know what Turner's better solution was, but revoking fewer people on technical violations would be a good one.

Don said...

11:05: From my experience working in both, starting pay at private facilities is about 1/3 to 1/4 less than TDCJ. (Say $9 versus $12.) Plus, benefits are much inferior. As to quality of workforce, neither one has much as far as the new hires go. Most of the good people get a better job very quickly and move on. Private prison companies may offer a rate that is a little less than what TDCJ can do it for, but if they provide the same services, and if they actually provided the services they contract for, it would be a wash. The little town of Littlefield has a facility sitting empty and costing the taxpayers $60,000 per month on a $10,000,000 debt. GEO left 2 years ago because they lost their contract with the state of Idaho, basically because they weren't living up to the terms of the contract. They skimp on guards, education, substance abuse programs, meals, medical, and everything else. (TDCJ does too, but not to the extent that people like GEO do). I don't know what the people advocating more privatization for saving money are smoking. Wish I had some.

Lance said...

You might as well leave the inmates in the community with as many escapes as these private prison operators have. Mall rent-a-cops are a bad ideal to watch convicted felonies.

I like the ideal of privatization of the state legislature. We can outsource the legislature and move the Capitol to India. At least when I call those 800 customer service numbers in India I get an answer, unlike some legislators. If we are going to outsource, we should start from the top down. Let's start by outsourcing the Governor and hire a professional CEO. We can replace the legislature with a corporate board of directors. We can fire all state employees and go to a day labor site to hire new DPS Troopers, teachers, social workers, and correctional officers. I'm sure this will save Texans lots of money. Or maybe we can hire a third world government to run Texas, after all cheaper is better, right?????