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Prison sales challenge putting govt jobs ahead of people

Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposal to contract out several prisons, including the sale of some of them, should merit applause not so much because it generates one-time, short-term funds, but because it will lead to better correctional operations at reduced cost. Whether legislators intent on protecting state jobs instead of taxpayers will allow this remains to be seen.

Yes, the state gets a one-time padding of the purse of an estimated $66 million for selling the two currently operated by the private sector, and then will save a forecasted $10 million-plus a year for the new contracted ones (savings figures, if any over existing contracts, are pending for the ones to be sold), but the real payoff comes from the ability also to do a better job if research – including that concerning its previous privatization of two prisons – gives any guidance. So long as the state puts sufficient care into both kinds of contracts – with sheriffs who claim they can do the job at lower cost and the companies that will buy the prisons they already operate – that ensures maintenance of standards and cost reductions – taxpayers benefit. To guarantee space will be there when needed, the state also should pursue changes in incarceration practices in concert with this transition which could generate savings in the $200 million range.

While the contracting part will not need legislative approval, sales will and the good old boys won’t go down without a fight on this. Typifying their attitude, Democrat state Rep. Robert Johnson whose district contains one of the facilities in question maintained, obviously ignorant of the literature on the subject, said “From the information I've been provided, I don't see how this is a good deal. I can't support anything that's going to cost my parish jobs…. I can't support anything that's going to result in jobs with a lower rate of pay.”

Often, fewer personnel and/or at lower pay are outcomes of contracting, being one reason why it reduces costs even as research shows quality does not decline. Which is why dinosaurs like Johnson, who care more about padding the state’s payroll than letting taxpayers keep more of what they earn and/or spending more efficiently on other important priorities, make the fate of the sales uncertain – because by adopting his government-before-people approach he can find a way to take credit having the jobs there and argue his “creation” of them merits his reelection.

To win over enough of these relics, the Jindal Administration will have to stress the long-term savings over the one-time cash infusion, a strategy made easier by the tough budgetary times plaguing the state, countering demagoguery with the facts. This makes connecting reducing the rate of incarceration in favor of alternative sentencing and correctional practices to this even more helpful, because these same individuals tend to favor fewer/shorter jail sentences (because it’s difficult to mobilize your voters when they’re in the clink). A comprehensive correctional reform plan of this nature stands a great chance of enactment, much to Louisiana’s benefit.


Landman of the Apocalypse said...

Why don't we just sell all the prisons to judges and sheriffs and pay them based on prison population? That way, they can make more arrests, give longer sentences, and cash in while doing it.

Anonymous said...


You are, without a doubt, the biggest kook POS anybody has ever read. What a joke!

Anonymous said...

Dr. Sadow,

Some observations about your post on "privatization" of prisons. As you alternately use the term "contracting," you agree that this is simple government contracting for performance of a government function. Government contracting has a set of problems you do not raise: oversight costs, design of RFP process, and design of RFP specifications.

The Archambeault and Deis study has not been highly-regarded universally. For instance, Scott and Daggett, (6/27/2005), pg. 7, "the limitations of this study are common in the literature." and "their research design treated the prisons as though they differed in only random ways when this was clearly not the case." Also see Greene, Judith, Comparing Private and Public Prison Services and Programs in Minnesota: Findings from Prisoner Interviews,Current Issues in Criminal Justice, Vol. II, No. 2, pg. 7, "Other researchers have heavily criticized various elements of their methodology, however."

Bayer and Pozen found that private juvenile corrections facilities in Florida had a worse recidivism rate though more efficient operations.

One of the criticisms of the LSU study was assuming similarity in inmate populations. Pratte and Mahs found lower costs in private mixed and maximum security prisons and lower costs in public minimum and medium security prisons. They noted none of the cost differences was statistically significant. Quoted at pg. 77 in

Camp and Daggett, id at pg. 26, concluded that the private prison did not perform as well as the three public prisons used for comparison.

And prison contracts do not lend themselves to highly competitive bidding. There are few competitors; they pursue a long-term service contract rather than providing commodity supplies at a spot price; and the ratable items are forward-looking without adjusting for performance (bids are $ per inmate per day without consideration for outcomes). Additionally, as has been pointed out elsewhere, private entities put profit ahead of quality. Recidivism, I believe, is more driven by the quality of corrections services than by the cost incurred in providing those services. After all, the goal here is to protect the public both from harmful offenders and from reoffenders.