KELLY JAMISON inmate education program bumps up against the classic church and state conflict. Stiles, who has said N-Group’s consulting deals “smell terribly,” failed in his bill to provide for regulations that would begin to curtail questionable arrangements. On the House floor, Stiles added an amendment prohibiting the construction of a for-profit jail if financed by bonds or certificates of obligation issued by the county. He explained that he didn’t want counties to, build prisons they couldn’t afford. Good intentions notwithstanding, the amendment will not prevent NGroup from continuing its suspect method of conduit financing. Nor does it address the more common lease-purchasing agreement, where facilities owned and financed by private corporations are bought by governments in installments. Douglas C. McDonald, editor of Private Prisons in the Pulic Interest, wrote that “although the payment of lease fees is not legally considered debt, it is indeed a debt in reality.” Since governments can enter into these agreements without a bond referendum, they have increasingly used this technique to build jails for taxpayers who want more prisons, but regularly vote against paying for them. In another instance, Stiles let N-Group off the hook. He added a provision to a bill on the House floor making private county jails adhere to the expensive standards adopted by the state in its settlement of the landmark Ruiz v. Estelle case several years ago. Those standards involve everything from keeping caps on prison population to monitoring work programs to medicine and living conditions. According to N-Group spokesperson Smith, the six facilities they have built fall under a grandfather clause exempting those companies that have already signed jail service contracts. Lawmakers, in hammering out differences between HB 841 and SB 248, may soon haggle over the degree to which private prisons should be regulated, but some believe the idea to be fundamentally flawed. Martin, a former CCA prison consultant, terminated his been able to prove they are more cost efficient, according to member of a Dallas securities firm who advises against buying their stock: “It was supposed to be a high growth industry. The problem is that earnings just haven’t materialized.” Private facilities must operate on assumption that they can do it cheaper than government, and the few studies done have shown they tend to cut corners, skimping on their medical and educational responsibilities to prisoners. An internal audit conducted on Texas facilities operated by CCA and Wackenhut \(a private prisons companies had been leaving some staff positions vacant, but were pocketing the salaries. In some instances, inmates had to wait as long as six weeks to see a dentist. After prison board members threatened to break their contracts with the companies, CCA and Wackenhut made satisfactory amends, but are still under evaluation. Labor groups, including the Texas State Employees Union, say that privatization of prisons drives workers’ wages down. J. Michael Keating Jr., in a report printed by the American Federation of State,. County, and Municipal Employees, wrote: “The fundamental key to improved cost-effectiveness for private correctional providers is the re duction of the cost of labor. That means, in evitably, lower salaries, reduced benefits, fewer staff and less training for correctional employees.” OME QUESTION the wisdom of letting either public or private jails contract for out-of-state prisoners. Mary Wathen White, a member of CURE, said private prisons don’t allow the same oversight as public institutions. “If Andy Collins [TDCJ insitutional division director] sees something wrong in a public facility, he tells the warden to fix it,” said White. “But it’s much more indirect when you have to go through contracts.” The presence of out-of-state inmates currently allowed under Texas code has led to more than 80 lawsuits charging the facilities with inadequate training, recreation, drug treatment, and health care. Inmates from the District of Columbia, who were predominantly black, “complained about the culture shock of being confined in rural South Texas” when they were detained in the Zavala county jail, according to the San Antonio Express-News. Prisoners-rights advocates say that taking a prisoner away from the support of family, counselor, and attorney not only makes rehabilitation much harder, but deprives prisoners of constitutional rights. “It creates serious roadblocks for the poorest inmates,” said Suzanne Donovan of the TCLU. Currently, the subcommittee for SB 248 is trying to balance constitutional concerns with the immediate needs of bailing out counties. Armbrister said he first decided to carry this bill for a former legislative aide who now holds the County Judge seat in Bastrop County. While the first version only applied to Bastrop, Armbrister said so many other counties called his office, they decided to change the language of the bill to include every county in Texas. For Bastrop County Judge Randy Fritz, who took office at the beginning of the year, the most important issue was dealing with a prison he has inherited that has absorbed all of the county’s employment with the company after three years after he concluded that money, not social justice, was the goal of company executives. “My approach was, if we’re going to have to [privatize prisons], let’s do it very deliberately, on a very limited scale,” said Martin. “They can say what they want to, but their ultimate goal is profit. They’re businessmen.” When given free reign, companies have sometimes run wild. For instance, CCA tried to build a speculative 256-bed prison last summer on land near Estancia, New Mexico. The land was unzoned, so the company didn’t have to seek the approval of local citizens, who found themselves battling in court against a jail they didn’t want or need. PRIVATE PRISON companies haven’t THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7
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