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Waco Tribune Editorializes Against Jail Privatization

Via an excellent post at Grits for Breakfast, the Waco Tribune Herald has an editorial ("Costs of Privatization," July 13) in its Sunday edition about the recent controversy over a privatization plan to address jail overcrowding. I'll leave it to the editorial board to explain their position:

Time after time the state has had to step back from sweeping privatization edicts. Either too few bidders stepped forward to provide services or those who got contracts dropped the ball.

So while it’s troubling that McLennan County commissioners are considering doing the same with their jail, it’s good that they are going to take their time and not take a leap based on misleading advertising.

Yes, privatizing the jail likely will save money. A bidder will do whatever it needs, cut every necessary corner, to meet any dollar figure that will win its way into a government contract.

The fine print is that private enterprise won’t necessarily do the job better, or with sufficient accountability that taxpayers know that it is so.

We acknowledge here that some government services are reasonably contracted out. Food service is one.

But when actual lives are placed in state custody, contracting out the function is fraught with concerns.

The biggest concern about privatizing, aside from the business’s desire to put profit first, is the problem of proprietary information.

A private contractor doesn’t have to reveal information about the possible criminal backgrounds of employees, how it spends public dollars and who else is contributing to it. That’s private.

If a private contractor hired a felon to watch the felons, it’s no one else’s business.

Jailers for McLennan County have vigorously opposed privatization of the jail, and not just out of concern for their own jobs.

They are concerned about the quality of service that might be offered by a for-profit entity. They are concerned about transparency in its operations.

See our previous coverage on the privatization debate in McLennan County:

McLennan County Opposition to Jail Privatization Plan

Sheriff's Deputies Protest Privatization in McLennan County

McLennan County Seeking New Private Jail

Sheriff Receives $12K from CiviGenics

Jail Alternatives Can Save Money