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TDCJ should study history, all aspects of state jail privatization, not just costs

State Representative Erwin Cain's proposed amendment to study and potentially privatize all Texas state jails may have lost some steam.  According to the latest copy of the amendment we've seen, the amendment would now mandate the study of the "most effecient and cost-effective" manner of running state jails, but the study would no longer automatically trigger TDCJ to privatize state jails if they were found to be cheaper.

That's certainly good news.  However, the state should study more than cost-savings.  Other impacts of privatization - including guard pay and benefits, turn over rates, recidivism rates of prisoners leaving the institutions, assault incidents, suicides and attempted suicides, lawsuits, guard misconduct, and drug and alcohol program completion, to name a few -  should be added to the list.

TDCJ has good reason to study these other issues in addition to cost.  The agency's record with state jail privatization has not always been rosy, and in at least one case was downright appalling. 

Here in Austin, TDCJ partnered with Travis County and Wackenhut Corrections (now called GEO Group) in 1997 to open the Travis County Community Justice Center under the auspices of the state jail system.  At the time, Wackenhut CEO George Zoley hailed the community corrections facility “as the first project of its kind in the country.”  However, by September 2009, the state had seized control of the facility citing an investigation into multiple guards having sex with prisoners and Wackenhut Correction’s chronic problems staffing the facility. 

Guards were reportedly paid a starting wage of $6.50 an hour, hardly enough to attract and maintain talented staff in Austin's dot-com economy. In two short years, the company had racked up a record $625,000 in state fines related to staffing levels.  State investigators claimed that the company was using money intended for rehabilitation to expand another Wackenhut Texas prison. 

A criminal investigation into the sexual assaults produced at least 12 sexual assault and harassment indictments against former Wackenhut Corrections employees.  Travis County Sheriff Margo Frasier said the facility was "poorly run and poorly managed. Frankly, this is the result of being understaffed and underpaid."  Stories like this one have been under-played in the current privatization debate, but should be taken seriously by policy-makers studying the issuing.

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I agree with the blog post.  There are a lot of things to consider when privitizing and the only factor shouldn't be cost reduction.  Their payroll may get significantly reduce, but that doesn't mean it's a good thing.  I know that if my pay gets cut, I'm going to start looking for another job.  Then before you know it you have all new staff.  Then they are inexperienced and the prisoners can take advantage of that.  A lot of things to consider before you privitize.

In this crisis, we all need to come together!