Just say no to private prisons in N.H.
There is a better way to deal with punishment of crime and controlling costs
In the not-too-distant future, a report will be released in New Hampshire likely endorsing the creation of a private prison. The governor and General Court should reject this poor idea.
New Hampshire already has 15 prisons — one in each of our 10 counties, plus two in Berlin, one in Concord, and two in Manchester-Goffstown. Do we really need yet another, or should we fix up the ones we have? How much more crime and prisoners are we projecting anyhow? Does it have anything to do with expanded gambling in New Hampshire? Should we be asking why the U.S. has the highest per capita rate of incarceration in the western world?
Perhaps there is a better way to deal with punishment of crime and controlling costs.
A private prison is a place in which persons convicted of a crime or awaiting trial are incarcerated by a private corporation under a state contract. The objective of the state is justice. The purpose of the corporation is to make a profit for its shareholders.
Proponents say private prisons are “more efficient.” What that really means is that they can reduce costs by paying lower salaries, hiring less educated staff, cutting staff training, using less standard equipment, offering a lower-quality diet, hollowing out drug rehabilitation and education programs, and basically cutting corners.
There is a sheriff in Arizona who brags that he feeds his prisoners on 99 cents per day. Is this where we are going?
A private prison typically works off a fixed daily or monthly rate per prisoner. That gives a wide financial scope, and in some cases allows the company to reject high-maintenance prisoners while it profits on those with lower costs.
With profit as the bottom line, the incentive for the company is to retain prisoners and make money. The longer the sentence, the better for the company. This is a departure from the core purpose of government-managed prisons and the expectations of society seeking safety from criminals, but also re-entry of rehabilitated inmates to society.
Privatizing our justice system can be a big money-maker.
In December 2012, it was revealed that the Kimtock Group, the second largest operator of halfway houses in New Jersey — financed largely by government contracts — paid its founder roughly $7 million over a decade, while the founder’s daughter, brother-in-law and son-in-law received more than $2.5 million. Their exact duties were unclear.
The company operated with little accountability and oversight. Would a private prison operate any differently, even in New Hampshire?
When a prison’s principal motivation is revenue, rehabilitation can go by the wayside fast. Other cuts could probably hit the inmates more directly: less food, less care, less hygiene.
Cuts concerning guards could be risky. A low-paid, inadequately trained and poorly equipped guard threatens the guard’s safety, the inmate and the public.
Is a private prison performing a traditional governmental function subject to New Hampshire’s right-to-know law? If something goes wrong inside the prison, to whom is the prison management accountable?
Do constitutional rights of prisoners apply inside private prisons? How many prisoners are being brought in from out of state as the company seeks to fill the cells, and is that proper?
Private prisons are a problem, not a solution. The pursuit of justice should not be tied to business opportunities. Prisons-for-profit demean our democracy. Some things should never be for sale.
George Bruno, one of the founders of New Hampshire Legal Assistance and the New Hampshire Public Defender, practices immigration law in Manchester.