Hat tip to the Private Corrections Working Group who first alerted me to this story. In a story reminiscent to that of Stacia Hylton - the former US Marshals contracting officer turned GEO Group lobbyist turned US Marshals director - immediate past Bureau of Prisons (BOP) director Harley Lappin has been hired by Corrections Corporation of America as an executive vice president and "chief corrections officer."
Lappin retired just last month from the BOP after it was revealed that he had been arrested for drunken and reckless driving. PCWG sums up the problem with the private prison revolving door in their press release:
"Former BOP director Lappin’s decision to join CCA represents a continuing trend under the Obama administration of former senior federal employees taking jobs in an industry closely related to their government service. By hiring high-level former federal officials, companies can capitalize on their insider knowledge of government operations, contract requirements and other information that gives them an advantage when dealing with federal agencies.
This is particularly problematic in terms of prison operations, when companies such as CCA lobby heavily (spending approximately $1 million on the federal level alone) to influence legislation and obtain lucrative contracts to house federal prisoners in for-profit prisons."
In fact, recent data released by the Detention Watch Network found that CCA has spent more than $18 million over the last 10 years lobbying the federal government alone, including directly lobbying the Bureau of Prisons.
And, that lobbying pays off. Here in Texas, CCA operates the 1,500 bed Eden Correctional Center for the BOP, and the company has won major contracts from the BOP in recent years. With a current round of BOP contracts being decided at the BOP, it will be interesting to see how much influence Mr. Lappin's recent employment gives CCA in Washington.
Following up on the state's continuing contract with the Dawson State Jail more details regarding the decisions of lawmakers to close state prisons is coming to light. Mike Ward at the Austin American Statesman reported earlier this week that:
Senate and House budget negotiators have agreed to close the 102-year-old Central Unit near Sugar Land to save $50 million, the first such closure of an entire maximum-security lockup in state history.
Our pal Scot Henson at Grits for Breakfast found news in the recent events to be disapointing:
Savings from prison closures should go to diversion programming, not private prisons. The goal should be to reduce incarceration levels, not to plan for failure.
The reality is that lawmakers do have different choices and even setting asside $15 million of limited state funding because of the anticipated need of private prison beds. State lawmakers have achieved some policy reform that has resulted in lowering the state's incarceration rate, reducing recidivism while not compromising public safety. And in some respect that spirit of reform has contributed to not only a culture change in Texas but nationally.
Yet the anticipation of lowered expectations continues to plague the Texas Legislature and results in a lack of investment in communities and people. This is disappointing. The questions as we move forward is will there ever be a moment when Texas lawmakers who commit to finding alternatives to incarceration also plan for the day when they might not need so many prison beds. Rather they make the choice to prioritize state resources on in ways that strengthen opportunity for all Texans.
The Detention Watch Network has released some terrific data and graphs on the private prison industry's role in the United States' immigrant detention system. (Full disclosure: I'm on the Steering Committee of DWN, and Grassroots Leadership helped compile this research). Amongst the interesting findings, 49% of all immigrant detention beds in the United States are operated by private prison corporations. That is higher percentage of privatized beds than nearly any other state or federal agency.
Texas has more private immigrant detention beds - more than 10,000 - than any other state. Furthermore, some of the largest immigrant detention centers in the country are in Texas, including MTC's Willacy County Processing Center and GEO Group's South Texas Detention Center. The report includes a complete breakdown of every major private detention center by average daily population.
Furthermore, the report tracks the federal lobbying and influence exerted by the private prison industry to ensure its interests are met. According to the report:
"Between the five corporations with ICE contracts for which official federal lobbying records are currently available, the total expenditure on lobbying for 1999-2009 was $20,432,000.(1) In general, corporations lobbied both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Most companies also lobbied the Department of Homeland Security, the agency that oversees Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The larger corporations (CCA and GEO) lobbied a variety of entities related to immigration policy, including the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Prisons, and the Office of Management and Budget. Both CCA and GEO reported lobbying ICE directly."
The full report and data are well worth a read. Check them out here.
The Texas Tribune's Brandi Grissom reported yesterday ("House Lawmakers Propose Privatizing All State Jails", March 31) that House Lawmakers are considering a plan to privatize all of Texas' state jail facilities. Rep. Erwin Cain, R-Como, filed a budget amendment Tuesday which would require TDCJ to begin a competitive bidding process on its non-contracted state jail facilities by January 1, 2012. According to that amendment (p 272), TDCJ would have to either shutter facilities which had estimated operating costs 10% higher than the bids, or eventually enter into a contract with a private operator for them. If Cain's legislation does pass, it's certain TDCJ would be required to privatize its fifteen remaining state jail facilities.
State jail facilities house prisoners convicted of low-level drug and property offenses for periods of up to two years. Five of Texas's twenty state jail facilities are currently privatized. They are managed by Corrections Corporation of America, and their capacity sums to 7,345 beds. The non-contracted facilities held around 12,500 inmates in 2009.
The Tribune reported that Cain said he will rescind his amendment. He then plans to attach it to a corrections bill authored by House Corrections Chair, Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, because of "technical concerns about the language."
According to the Tribune, Cain said in support of his amendment that, "government is not always the efficient provider." As we've noted in the past, though, the implication that private prisons are more efficient than those run by TDCJ is incorrect.
The studies that purport to demonstrate efficiency gains from privatization have failed to control for operational differences (read: compromises in safety and security) at private facilities. Texas's state auditor said as much when it recognized TDCJ hadn't even established adequate standards by which to judge contract compliance. Additionally, the studies that purport to show efficiency gains achieved by privatization are suspect, because they have been funded by private prison companies.
Private prisons appear to achieve cost savings relative to TDCJ with their initial bids because they hire guards at much-lower wages, but their strategy leads to chronic job vacancies, high rates of turnover, and consequent operational and security problems (For one resource on this, see Grassroots Leadership's "Considering a Private Jail, Prison, or Detention Center?"). In a comparison of private prisons with state-run facilities, TDCJ included the following:
"During FY 2008 the correctional officer turnover rate at the seven private prisons was 90 percent (60 percent for the five privately-operated state jails), which, in either case, is higher than the 24 percent turnover rate for TDCJ correctional officers during FY 2008."
-Interim Report to the 81st Legislature, Texas Senate Committee on Criminal Justice (December 2008)
So, private facilities have a unique problem with high turnover not experienced by state-run prisons and jails, and TDCJ's data shows the high rate of turnover is just one of the consequences of privatization. (we wrote about this before). The Bureau of Justice Assistance reported that private facilities experienced 49% more assaults on staff and 65% more inmate-oninmate assaults than public facilities. Private facilities also had significantly lower staffing levels than public facilities. A report by the Bureau of Prisons similarly found that private prisons had fewer correctional officers and much higher rates of staff turnover, escapes, and drug use than public prisons. So, while incidents at private facilities are sometimes similar in nature to those at state-run facilities, their incidence is uniquely high (See "Considering a Private Jail, Prison, or Detention Center?").
Even the purported cost-savings claimed by private prison companies are dubitable, though. This is because private facilities often take the least expensive inmates from TDCJ, and when TDCJ's contracted facilities have come to their point of renewal, their rates often go up. Sylvester Turner noted this in Brandi Grissom's Tribune Article:
"But state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, cautioned against the notion of more privatization, saying it could cost the state more in the long term. Past attempts at privatization, he said, have shown that companies are interested only in less expensive inmates. The state is left to shoulder the burden of housing the most-costly inmates: those who are sick and mentally ill. And, he said, there's no guarantee that private providers' rates won't skyrocket in the future."
One more very important objection to privatization was mentioned in the Tribune article, this time from Ana Yañez-Correa:
Ana Yañez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, said privatizing jails provides a perverse incentive to continue policies that keep more people in jail, because it results in more profits for the companies running the facilities. "The real cost savings is going to come out of minimizing the number of people who don’t need to be there," she said.
This is what Molly Ivins said, and it's one of the most concerning aspects of privatization. Through organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), private prison companies support harsher sentencing and seek to influence legislation that raises profits by holding as many warm bodies in private prison cells as possible.
We'll be following developments on this front at the legislature.