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.