Exec council weighs private prison process

If a private prison is actually built in New Hampshire, Gov. John Lynch is in favor of importing prisoners to help fill it.Lynch expressed his feelings at the Wednesday morning breakfast meeting of the Executive Council, where the councilors discussed the proposal for a privately built prison that four companies are currently bidding on to build and run.Noting that Vermont currently ships its inmates to the Midwest, Lynch said, “We would like the prisoners to come here, rather than the other way around.”But, he added, evaluating the four bids will be very difficult, he said.”It’s very, very complicated,” Lynch said of evaluating the bids. “You need to do the same kind of analysis as you are doing with Medicaid,” he said.Lynch was referring to the current effort to bid out the state’s Medicaid program to a managed care company — a contract that was later tabled by the Executive Council for a second meeting in a row, despite the support of the Department of Health and Human Services, which strongly recommended it, and the Legislature, which is supportive of at least the concept of managed care.The request for proposal to build the prison is seeking a company to build and perhaps run a facility that would handle all of the state’s prison population. If such a prison were built, New Hampshire would be the first state to house all of its prisoners in a privately run facility. No other state even houses half of its prisoners to a private facility.Now that the four bids have been were turned in, said Lynch, it will be up to the Executive Council to set the policy.”It’s the council decision. This is the last step. It’s up to the council,” he said.But before the council gets a look at proposals, the Department of Administrative Services and the Department of Corrections have to evaluate them.While Corrections is looking at how such a prison would be overseen, Administrative Services could use some more “bandwidth” on the financial evaluation by hiring a consultant, Commissioner Linda Hodgdon explained. But that too will have to go out to bid in the next month or two.Executive Council Dan St. Hilaire suggested contracting for expertise into physical specs of any construction proposal. “We don’t want to get sued because we don’t meet federal requirements,” he said.All this means that the recommendation won’t be presented until late August at the earliest, said Hodgdon. “It’s nobody’s full-time job to look at this, and already we have put in 1,100 hours of staff down, and that’s going to quadruple easily. It’s going to be huge.”Hodgdon repeated that the names of those evaluating the bid will be kept under wraps “so they won’t be lobbied,” but their names will be disclosed after the bids are released.In addition, said Hodgdon to the governor and councilors, “we need some feedback on policy … where you have a session just on that. How do we want to proceed?”One question involves whether to take into account where the prison would be built. “Some communities will welcome it while others would fight it,” said St. Hilaire.What is the use of having a perfect proposal, “in a location that is going to be blasted?” said Executive Councilor David Wheeler.The evaluation committee could take that into account, said Michael Connor of the Bureau of Purchase and Property, which is part of the Department of Administrative Services.”One of the criteria is that the proposal has to be feasible,” he said. — BOB SANDERS/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW

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