The Idaho Board of Correction said last week it would not routinely roll over its contract with the Corrections Corporation of America for managing the Idaho Correctional Center near Boise, and instead would put it up for bid among the various private prison companies out there — but would not consider a proposal from the state Department of Corrections.
What they appear not to have indicated is why they think another private provider would do better.
The need to improve on the track record of CCA, which runs the Idaho Correctional Center near Boise, is obvious enough. It has admitted to understaffing and overbilling the state — I’ll leave it to you to process what that means — and it has been accused of much more, up to and including running a “gladiator school” in which discipline and control are maintained in considerable part by criminal gangs.
Here’s the catch: Within the private prison industry sector, CCA may actually be the best there is.
It is the largest private prison company in the country, and much the most experienced, starting with its first prison contract in Tennessee in 1984. For all the bad headlines CCA has gotten over the years — (Idaho is no aberration: There have been many concerning facilities around the country) — the other firms in the field have gotten their share, too.
The second-largest such company, and roughly in CCA’s ballpark in terms of size and clout, is the Geo Group (formerly Wackenhut), which also operates in many states. Try Googling it and you’ll come back with a stunning track record. There was the 2001 inmate murder in Texas after which the firm was sued not just over the death, but also over destruction of evidence. There were eight deaths at a Delaware County, Pennsylvania, facility between 2005 and 2009 (after which Geo withdrew from its management). An insider report on a Pompano Beach, Fla., facility reported “substandard or callous medical care, including a woman taken for ovarian surgery and returned the same day, still bleeding, to her cell, and a man who urinated blood for days but wasn’t taken to see a doctor.” (That one led to a congressional and federal agency inquiry.)
After CCA and Geo the companies get smaller, but Management & Training Corporation (MTC) is considered one of the comers in the business. On May 30, news reports surfaced about a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of prisoners at its East Mississippi Correctional Facility near Meridian, alleging “barbaric” conditions and denial of health and other basic care.
So it goes.
It’s worth knowing that the state Department of Correction’s record with state-run prison, by contrast, while not perfect, is a lot cleaner than these.
So why would the state even consider going down this road again?
Board of Correction Chairwoman Robin Sandy was quoted as saying a state Department of Correction takeover of the private jail would be an expansion of state government. That’s ridiculous, of course; the state is paying for the prisoners, their housing and the facilities they’re in, whether state or private employees are overseeing them. But the state does have a serious choice to make about what kind of responsibility it takes for the people it locks up, and for the public exposed to them when they get out.
Randy Stapilus is a former Idaho newspaper reporter and editor, author of The Idaho Political Field Guide, edits the Idaho Weekly Briefing, and blogs at www.ridenbaugh.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.