And it's no longer restricted to the "front line" states of the Southwest. Forced diversity is exerting budgetary pressure in Idaho. In presenting his latest budget request, which calls for an 12 percent increase in funding for his agency, Idaho Department of Correction director Brent Reinke told budget writers that one consequence of having a third of his 7,400-inmate prison population either outside the state, in privately run prisons or in county jails is that the most dangerous offenders are piling up in Idaho-run prisons. Full story published by the Twin Falls Times-News.
Reinke points out that only the best-behaved inmates are accepted by counties, at the privately run Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise, and at two private prisons in Texas and Oklahoma that now house 500 Idaho inmates. Just 8 percent of the inmates cause 84 percent of reported problems.
And these facts were just some of many cited by Reinke in support of his proposed fiscal year 2009 budget request of $206 million, which is a 12 percent increase over last year. Reinke explained that this "hardening" of Idaho's inmate population was clear during a serious prison disturbance in late 2007. Reinke showed members of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee video images caught September 26th on security camera documenting what he characterized as a "nascent gang uprising", in which guards armed with pepper spray were forced to intervene. Reinke said the September 26th incident ended with bruises, one guard with a sprained knee and a prisoner who needed stitches in his head. He used the videotape to buttress his argument that Idaho needs to add to its prison beds.
"Out-of-state placements have an impact on the type inmates housed in our prisons," Reinke said. The prison gangs include Hispanic "Nortenos" and "Surenos" as well as white-supremacist groups, he said. Reinke failed to mention, though, that the emergence of "white supremacist" prison gangs is normally a defensive response against depredations committed aginst white inmates by non-white inmates, although groups like the Aryan Brotherhood sometimes engage in drug-dealing to finance their activities.
And waht does Reinke want to do with the additional money? In addition to a 400-bed drug treatment prison and a 248-bed expansion in progress at the Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise that won backing of lawmakers in 2006 and 2007, Reinke wants to dedicate about $8 million more in this year's budget to add another 380 beds. He's also asking for $70 million in additional money to build a secure facility for the 300 of the state's dangerously mentally ill.
And this is completely separated from a proposed $250 million, 2,100-bed, privately owned prison planned to be completed in 2012 that Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter is now trying to sell to lawmakers. Reinke told lawmakers he'll be back on February 13th to talk about that proposal.
"Our primary concern is the continual effort of going out of state," he said. "By 2012, we'll have somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 prisoners out of state. That's unacceptable." Idaho is due to spend nearly $18 million in the year starting next July on housing inmates out-of-state.
In his nearly 2 hour presentation to the budget writing committee, Reinke told members his agency is getting ready to start the bidding process to manage the Idaho Correctional Center, since 2000 operated by Tennessee-based Corrections Corp. of America. However, some lawmakers who are skeptical of private prisons want to see comparisons of recidivism rates of inmates released from private and state-managed prisons.
Across Idaho's prison system, Department of Correction figures show 62 percent of inmates who are released on parole violate conditions of their release; two-thirds of those parole violators are returned to prison. The numbers, however, don't show whether prisoners from state-run facilities or from the privately run Idaho Correctional Center fare better. Any comparison may be contaminated by the behavioral disparity between in-state prisoners vs. out-of-state prisoners.
According to the 147-page Idaho Department of Correction FY2007 Annual Statistical Report, the State of Idaho incarcerates offenders in eight state run institutions, one privately-operated institution and five community work centers that have a combined operating capacity of 6,412. At the end of 2007, IDOC also contracted 429 beds out of state. There are also 417 county jail beds offered for use by IDOC.
A graph posted on page 19 of this report shows steady growth of the inmate population. The average increase per year ranges from three to five percent.
Racial breakdown of inmate population indicates 75.8% White, 15.7% Hispanic, 3.7% Indian, 2.1% Black, and 0.4% Asian, with a handful of "others". Since totals add up to 100%, this indicates that Hispanics are not counted as White, as they are in Utah. Compared to the overall state demographics indicated in Census Quickfacts, which show a statewide dsitribution of 86.3% Non-Hispanic White, 9.5% Hispanic, 1.4% Indian, and 0.7% Black, one can see that Hispanics make up a disproportionately large percentage of the prison population. This is the flip side of "rich diversity" and cheap labor.
Commentary: The concept of private prisons has been controversial, to say the least. Critics tend to outnumber supporters. Idaho Governor Butch Otter is a major proponent of private prisons, claiming, in this NNCN.com article, that it is better to have private corporations pay up front for the costs of housing inmates rather than to bond the costs out through the public process. However, a more typical critique appears on the Mediafilter website; here's a pertinent excerpt:
There are two broad areas of concern: efficiency, i.e., can private operators be trusted to run prisons for less without sacrificing "quality of service"; and accountability, i.e., what oversight mechanisms will assure that society's interests come before those of the managing corporations. As to efficiency-leaving aside for a moment critical questions about what "efficiency" means in prison operations-three well-designed comparative studies found that private operators did run prisons more cheaply without sacrificing ''quality.'' Typically, the studies found, Wackenhut and CCA were able to provide cost savings of five to fifteen percent while still maintaining high marks for provision of services. Even in Texas, which has one of the lowest cost per prisoner rates, both Wackenhut and CCA came in cheaper. But what about "efficiency"? If the term means nothing more than the ability to house bodies cheaply while complying with minimal standards, then industry leaders, at least, appear to be efficient.
Imprisonment, however, is generally acknowledged to include, at best, deterrence and rehabilitation, or at least, reduction of recidivism rates. While there is no definitive private-public comparative study on recidivism, the private prisons, as opposed to the state, have a direct conflict of interest. By reducing the number of repeat offenders, they are in effect reducing the supply of profit producing "customers." It is in the material interest of these companies, therefore, to produce not prisoners who have "paid their debt to society," but ones who will continue to pay and pay on the installment plan.
The question of accountability is a legal sinkhole. Under U.S. Iaw, the state is subject to constitutional restraints that do not apply to private entities. With prisoners' rights already under attack from Congress and the federal courts, and with ambiguous case law on private versus public liability, some legal scholars are worried. They fear that privatized prisons place inmates in a legal limbo-caught in a grey area between the state and the private sector-unable to hold either answerable for infringements of their constitutional rights. Another accountability issue concerns monitoring. The profit-motive could cause private operations to cut corners; leading to poor or unsafe conditions. Privatization proponents argue that regulation and careful state monitoring of compliance will sufficiently protect inmates, but that contention must come as cold comfort to prisoners who have already felt the tender mercies of the state. The record so far, however, shows that compared to the murderous outbreaks in state penitentiaries, incidents of violence, riot, escape and the like have been relatively rare in the private prisons.
The hard-left Alternet website is even more critical, focusing on Corrections Corporation of America and their labor policies and electioneering influence in a December 2003 post:
From the beginning, CCA has sought to depress its labor costs by keeping wages low and by denying its employees traditional (defined-benefit) pension plans. One predictable result of these policies had been understaffing and high rates of turnover at some of its facilities. For example, annual turnover rates at several CCA facilities in Tennessee have been more than 60 percent. Another, equally predictable, has been the opposition of public service unions to the spread of prison privatization. Criminal justice reformers, trying to reduce the use of incarceration in the U.S., don't normally find themselves allying with prison guard unions but in this fight they are all on the same side.
Despite this opposition, CCA has been quite successful in recent years in influencing the public debate and winning the support of legislators. Of course, it is not hard to win legislators when you back up your arguments with hard cash. The company spends hundreds of thousands of dollars during each state election cycle to try to gain access and build support for its projects. At the federal level, CCA has given more than $100,000 in soft money to the Republican Party since 1997 as well as political action committee contributions to individual members of key Congressional committees.
And guess what? Barely three hours after I posted this, WISH Channel 8 in Indianapolis reported that six black nurses have sued Corrections Corporation of America because they were forced to leave their jobs at the Marion County jail operated by the company. They claim they were terminated because of "racism" and their exposure of poor medical practices. The 10-count complaint says CCA retaliated against the six because they had complained to their supervisors that inmates did not receive prescribed medications, were given wrong medications or were given other patients' drugs to save money.
The racism charge is probably B.S.; blacks are always whining about "racism". But the alleged medical abuses are a valid concern.
If Idaho chooses to embrace private prisons, it had better set rigorous custodial and training standards to ensure the safety of custodial staff, inmates, and surrounding communities alike. Paying bargain-basement prices for public safety generally produces bargain-basement results, which end up in tragedy.