Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Local pols unenthusiastic about privatizing Harris County Jail

A couple of weeks ago, Grits quoted excerpts from a Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) investor phone call in which company bigwigs predicted that Harris County would likely make a decision regarding privatization of its county jail by early next year now that election season had passed. So I'm pleased as punch to see that Charles Kuffner has followed up on the story (since the MSM did not) by asking several key county-level players about the prospects of privatizing Texas' largest jail. None of the local pols, though, seemed as enthusiastic about the prospect as the private prison executives.

Notably, "County Judge Ed Emmett said this was the first he’d heard about this particular item in many months," but he promised a public process before any decision was made. "He said that right now the RFP that Corrections Corporation of America and any other bidders submitted is being reviewed by the purchasing department, which will when ready present its findings for the Court to consider. At that time, they may or may not take any action." Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Commissioner Radack portrayed the RFP as more of an information gathering process than a serious outsourcing proposal. He "characterized this as a very complex process and that the main thing he hoped to get out of it was some lessons about possible ways to be more efficient and save money. I suggested his description sounded somewhat like an audit to me, and he thought that was a reasonable analogy. He stressed that any review of corrections is multifaceted and can take a lot of time." Concluded Kuff, "I did not get the impression [Radack] was seeking anything transformational." Part of that may be because the situation at the jail has changed. Kuff noted:
I’m reminded as I review the history of all this that the origin was in late 2010 when Radack and Jerry Eversole were complaining about the cost of outsourcing inmates to Louisiana. That was when Radack made his request for a study of ways to reduce costs at the jail, which turned into a formal RFP when then-Budget Director Dick Raycraft came back and said it was the only way to answer the question. And so here we are today, in an environment where inmates are no longer being outsourced and jail costs overall are already lower, awaiting that answer.
Finally, Sheriff Adrian Garcia sent Kuff a written statement which included this rebuff to the privatization idea: "I am also mindful of Judge Emmett’s comment that no private detention company has run a jail system as big as ours, and of then-Texas Commission on Jail Standards Executive Director Adan Munoz’s comment that privatization of the jail is not advisable. Their comments also mirror those of sheriffs in other parts of the country who have seen how privatization experiments at county jails have actually cost communities more than when they were run by the sheriff."

Despite the more sanguine portrayal to CCA investors by company executives, these comments don't sound like privatization of the Harris County Jail is in any way imminent nor even presently on the commissioners court's radar screen, though it's possible that could change when the purchasing department finishes evaluating responses to the RFP.

Good blogging by Kuff - thanks a lot, amigo, for following up!


jwgoodman said...

Privatization of government functions does not have a fine record. One of the most noted is the "privatization corporation" known as UTMB-TDCJ CMC. Refer to your own earlier articles on the intramural cat fight between TDCJ/UTMB/Texas. Cost overage was massive as had been building for a decade. It is unsettled even now. Private groups cannot operate as private industry does when running a state function ... bonuses in State agencies are not to be had.
They are to be had in private industry.

Anonymous said...

We have the more people caged in our country than any other country in the world and now we have companies on the stock market that run prisons and jails,,there is something terribly wrong about contracting duties mandated by legislators but carried out by companies that require mandatory inmate levels.

As if we don't already throw too many non-violent people in prison now I can hear the sheriff telling deputies;"we are short 12 prisoners tonight boy's,head to the hood and sniff out some marijuana crimes."

Anonymous said...

""For companies like Corrections Corporation of America (CXW) and GEO Group (GEO), the downside risk to marijuana legalization could be substantial. Recent reports from the analyst community make general mentions of policy changes as an ongoing risk factor, but make no specific mention of changes to drug laws. SunTrust cited the risk of “change[s] in state or federal policies and funding that reduce inmate populations,” and a post-election report from Macquarie included similar language. Otherwise, analysts are very positive on the stock, and are focused mostly on the company’s short-term plans to convert to a real estate investment trust. During the Q3 earnings call on November 8, an analyst asked about a referendum in California to reclassify some “three strikes” inmates, but no other policy changes were mentioned.