Thursday, February 11, 2010

Has Privatized Corrections Management Worked for Alaska? - Part One

As soon as the FBI became involved in investigating corruption in Alaska politics, it was far easier for them to find out how murky the relationships between our politicians and the privatized corrections industry are, than it has been for them to uncover the hand of big oil. Now the same Alaska Legislature that saw members and former large scale donors sentenced to prison, in part, for their relationship to privatized correctional schemes and scams, seeks to deepen our state's relationship with this growth industry that is fully committed to the new right corporatist paradigm of enriching investors while offering jobs for their employees that don't bring in enough money to allow these employees access to the American middle class.

Wednesday's Anchorage Daily Newsletter contained a decent article by Lisa Demer on how this is being spun in the legislature. Essentially, the industry has gained entry into the ongoing argument on the costs of running the new Goose Creek Correctional Center, nearing completion northwest of Pt. McKenzie, in the Mat-Su Borough.

The argument - based on a hefty one-page study - is that an out-of-state, private company, most likely Cornell Corrections, can run the facility for $6.5 million less than can Alaska's Department of Corrections. The study was inspired by Fairbanks Rep. Mike - go cut firewood in Barrow to stay warm - Kelly. Now he's pushing, through a DOC Deputy Commissioner, to have private companies submit requests for proposal on running and managing the prison when it is finished.

The image at the top of this article is from Cornell's home page. It is one of the facilities in another state that they manage. The image below it is an artist's rendition of what the completed Goose Bay facility will look like.

If the facility costs $6.5 million less to run by Cornell than by Alaska's DOC, is that really savings, and was there a way for Kelly's one-page "study" to analyze this enough to warrant issuing RFP's? I don't think so.

Here's a link to Cornell's page called Investor Relations Home. It invites the wealthy to invest in the company's fortunes. Most of these investors live outside of Alaska. All of Cornell's top management lives outside of Alaska.

Although their top Alaska managers, mostly imported here from California or Texas, make a middle class wage, most line employees do not. Around the country and in Alaska, most Cornell employees, if they have two kids and their spouse does not work, live below the poverty line. Because of this, the families often need state assistance of one kind or another. The line employees seldom make the field of corrections a career.

State Correctional Officers make a middle class wage. Most are career employees. The combination of longtime practical experience and continuing training makes them qualitiatively worth a lot to the system. Their higher wages are spent in the community, buying their kids' clothes, ballet lessons, soccer team fees, ice hockey skates, and so on.

Since the very early 1990s, at the same time the Cleary decision forced certain rights for inmates, based upon our constitutional mandate to help inmates get out of the cycle of continuing criminal activity, the state has instead lowered funding levels for components of correctional programming that were designed to treat and rehabilitate those who have been convicted of many crimes. Step by step, the correctional industry has been converted into the punishment industry.

Privatized correctional facilities not only punish the inmate more than do state-run facilities, they also punish the community, by removing decent, long-term employment and replacing it with scores of jobs that pay little better than work at McDonalds.

For Republicans like Kelly, this is a two-fer: less educated employees, who are more likely to vote GOP, and a healthy dose of union bashing, as most Cornell or other privately run facilities are non-union.

I worked in the privatized correctional industry for seven years, advancing from security shift supervisor to Director of the Cordova Center, to Bill Weimer's executive assistant. At least Allvest was Alaska-owned.

A privatized prison at Goose Bay will remove more recycled wages and other funds from Alaska without being spent here, than it could possibly save the state.


Anonymous said...

Bill Weimar is one of the most despicable profiteers Alaska has ever seen. Too bad he didn't get more jail time.

I hope you didn't pick up any of his bad habits or his morals. Yikes.

Philip Munger said...

anon @ 7:25 am: Had Bill listened to me, he would never have gotten into the trouble he did. Maybe some other kind instead, though.

Anonymous said...

My concern is with the education, training and therapy that is absent while incarcerated...our prisoners need to have other doors of opportunity opened when released that do not drive them back into criminal activity out of desparation and absence from the job market. As well as the therapy for whatever the mind set, besides poverty, that may have led them into prison, violence, abuse, neglect...this is our community's chance for mediation, guidance and support and eventually, true forgiveness. The for profit people are only interested in more prisoners and their imminent return.

Mel said...

Glad you're writing about this. Even without taking onto account the factors you name, it's debatable whether private operation of prisons is less expansive than public operation by the state. This article at National Institute of Justice website gives a good rundown of the problems involved just in making proper cost comparisons between the private v. public prison operation.

And a one-page study by a legislator is not something I'd want to base any such evaluation upon.

Another thing is how corrections populations in the U.S. have been exploding over the past three decades, mostly thanks to the "war on drugs" that began in 1980 with the Reagan Administration. The U.S. now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. We passed up Russia for this dubious honor sometime around 2004 or 2005 I think. Private corporations must wet themselves every time they think about this. All those prisoners -- all that money!

Putting prison operation in the hands of private corporations which profit from imprisoning people is not good public policy for so many reasons.

CGinWI said...

Good for you for taking this one. The private corrections industry is appalling on so many levels.

AKjah said...

Hey let's just privatise the court system and the state police with it. Cornell would love to bid on that as well. Next year it will be a note from your preacher to get any government service.
Sorry i must have read too much news today.

Anonymous said...

Should private citizens tell them off? I really hope that with the trouple they have caused that they steer clear of our state.

What was up with Weimar? Was he looking for problems?