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Testimony on HB443

Testimony on HB443

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HB443: A bill banning private prisons in New Hampshire.
HB443: A bill banning private prisons in New Hampshire.

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Published by: Christopher Petrella on Feb 07, 2013
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02/07/2013

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Christopher Petrellacpetrella@post.harvard.edu 7 February 2013
RE: HB 443-FN
 Dear Chairman Robertson and Committee Members:Thank you for your invitation to offer testimony in reference to HB 443-FN, a bill whose passage wouldbar the New Hampshire Department of Corrections from housing prisoners in privately-operatedprisons.I serve as co-director of the Private Prison Transparency Campaign, a national initiative endorsed by overforty criminal justice, civil rights, and public interest organizations urging members of the 113
th
Congressto reintroduce the Private Prison Information Act this session.http://privateprisoninformationactof2013.blogspot.com/ The bill, if enacted, would require that privateprison companies contracting with federal agencies comply with Freedom of Information Act
transparency requirements like their public counterparts. I’m
also a nationally recognized
“prison
 journalist,
” an
educator at San Quentin State Prison in San Rafael, California, and a doctoral student atU.C. Berkeley completing a book entitled
Race, Markets, and the Rise of the Private Prison State
Moreover, I’ve offered testimony
on issues of prison expansion andprivatization in a number of state legislatures.I commend your sponsorship of HB 443-FN and encourage you to frame attendant policy discussions inyour own terms, that is, in terms un-inherited from the four companies that have responded to yourrequest for proposals (RFP) last spring. You must define very clearly and carefully the fundamentalevaluative categories being used in service of HB 443-FN, categories like efficiency, re-entry, recidivism,and rehabilitation. Allowing these terms to be defined
 for 
you by the private prison industry willinvariably compromise the success of this bill.My chief intention here
isn’t necessarily to insist that public prisons are
better 
than private prisons, butto demonstrate that the burden of proof for evaluating correctional services on the basis of efficiency
often the singular criterion on which these debates hinge
rests not with critics of prison privatizationus but rather with its advocates. The industry has had over thirty years to demonstrate that it can
provide better services more efficiently than its public counterparts and yet to date there isn’t a single,
independent, and methodologically transparent national study that suggests it can. Nevertheless, thefor-profit prison industry insists that privatization
—or extending the reach and influence of the “freemarket”—
will generate efficiencies as companies respond to market pressures.
 
In 1995 Corrections Corporation of America (or CCA)
—now the nation’s largest for
-profit correctionsfirm (and one of the companies responding to your RFP)
predicted that it would operate around 20percent of the U.S. corrections market by the year 2000. http://www.privateci.org That today it
barely 
operates 4 percent legitimately calls into question the “market value” of its services.
http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p11.pdf  The private corrections industry falls victim to its ownperformance metrics: its relatively sluggish historical growth rates suggest that it responds
inefficiently 
to market pressures. This is precisely why large private prison companies spend millions of dollars eachyear encouraging lawmakers to establish artificial markets for their services. Unfortunately, much of thisirony is lost on the public.I mention these internal
contradictions because they’re worth exploiting in political debate, particularly
as the country begins to lock its eyes on New Hampshire
. I’ve gotten
a no less than twenty e-mails overthe last few weeks on the subject of HB 443-FN. The nation is curious and concerned and everything inbetween. If this bill is enacted, New Hampshire will join a short list of states
three, in fact
that
statutorily ban “private prisons.”
 http://www.mintpress.net/kids-for-cash-scandal-exposes-more-corruption-in-private-prison-system/ Part of the politics of this process, I think, is underscoring the reality that private prison companies haveyet to prove their worth in the market, in court, and as Rev/Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
might say, “in thecourt of public opinion.” This argument is best made by demonstrating to
citizens of New Hampshirethat prison privatization inherently compromises the state D.O.C.s ability to meet its fundamental aims,that is, to show that the business objectives of private contractors stand at cross-purposes with the
D.O.C.’s
strategic mission of 
“providing
a safe, secure, and humane correctional system througheffective supervision and appropriate treatment of offenders, and a continuum of services that promotesuccessful re-entry into society for the safety of our citizens and in support of crime victims.
http://www.nh.gov/nhdoc/aboutus.html The imperative to generate shareholder value intrinsicallypositions safety, rehabilitation, and community building as ancillary concerns. Underscoring thishierarchy of values as often as possible is paramount.
Many ask, “…but where’s the proof?”
 
Perhaps you’re aware that CCA and th
e GEO Group
the nation
’s
two largest private corrections firms
are in the process of reclassifying themselves with the IRS from
traditional “class
-
c” corporation
s whose stated mission
is “correctional solutions” to
Real EstateInvestment Trusts, or REITs. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, a REIT is a companythat owns - and typically operates - income-producing real estate or real estate-related assets as its
 primary 
business. To qualify as a REIT, a company must have the majority of its assets and incometethered to real estate investment. A REIT distributes at least 90 percent of its taxable income toshareholders annually in the form of dividends in exchange for a federal and state corporate income tax
rate of zero. That is, companies organized as REITs don’t pay corporate taxes.
If CCA or GEO wins acontract with the state of New Hampshire, then it
’s very likely that they will
be exempted from thestate
’s
8.5 percent corporate tax rate. http://truth-out.org/news/item/9499-how-americas-largest-private-prison-operator-plans-to-beat-corporate-income-tax
 
CCA and GEO
’s
quest for REIT status shows that both companies
 primarily 
see themselves as real estatefirms that incidentally dabble in corrections, not as agencies whose
 primary 
objective is rehabilitation,safety, or community restoration. This emerging REIT conversion narrative is chronically underreported
but I believe it’s worth highlighting in the context of 
HB 443-FN.In debating ideas like cost-effectiveness, efficiency, safety, and rehabilitatio
n it’s vitally important that
decision makers can access impartial and methodologically transparent information about the real costs
and benefits of privatization. I’d love nothing more than to provide you with a
national independent 
analysis of the performance of private and public prisons in the categories of cost-effectiveness,recidivism, and transparency.Unfortunately, I cannot.I cannot provide you with such data because it
’s nearly impossible
to access information pertaining toprivatized corrections when such companies
aren’t obligated to collect or reveal such
figures uponrequest. Though the private prison industry routinely vaunts its record on measures of efficiency andsafety relative to public agencies, it nonetheless refuses to disclose the very information required tosubstantiate its most basic claims of success. Given that private prison corporations are not required to
make their records public, it’s impossible to offer a full, national quan
titative comparison of public and
private prisons housing similar types of offenders. And this is key: “similar types of offenders.” This, forexample, is precisely why I’m spearheaded a national campaign aimed at urging Texas Congresswoman
Sheila Jackson Lee to reintroduce the Private Prison Information Act this Congressional session.If companies like CCA or GEO believe their correctional operations are more efficient than NewHampshire
s Department of Corrections, then why have they spent over $12 million lobbying against thepassage of the Private Prison Information Act since its initial introduction in 2005?http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/lookup2.php?strID=C00366468 Scant evidence exists to suggest thattaxpayers and lawmakers can access the type of data necessary for evaluating the performance of private corrections firms in comparison to the public sector. The fact that these reports are so difficult toobtain reveals a dangerous lack of transparency and accountability among the very private prisoncompanies responding to your RFP.The claim that private prisons inherently save taxpayers money is misleading. Private prison companieshave long been known for
“cherry picking” prisoners to house that are low cost, specifically excluding
elderly prisoners, maximum-security prisoners, death row prisoners, juveniles sentenced to adultprisons, female prisoners and, more generally, those prisoners with chronic medical conditions. Each of these inmate categories is more expensive to incarcerate, usually due to increased medical and securitycosts. Inconsistent selection criteria make reasonable, empirical cost comparisons extraordinarilydifficult. Your neighbor to the west, Vermont, acknowledged this fact in a report entitled
Plan to ReduceCorrectional Costs and Achieve Savings for Reinvestment 
presented to the Joint Correction OversightCommittee on 12 December 2007. The report
reads: “The criteria for inmates accepted for housing at
CCA are not likely to change. The CCA facilities do not accept seriously physically or mentally illoffenders, or offenders whose behavior is exceptionally disruptive or who cannot conform to rules. In

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