Private prisons promise savings

Sending someone behind bars might just end up being cheaper for taxpayers in coming years.
Jan 2, 2013

 

Thanks to the approval of Senate Bill 878 in the House in the waning days of the season, a private prison may soon reopen in Michigan.

This is good news for the state’s pocketbook, and questionable news regarding safety and security at the prison in question.

The privatized prison, in Baldwin, could incarcerate our state’s bad boys for 10 percent less than a state Department of Corrections facility could. Most of the savings are found in efficiencies and by eliminating the burden of a "Cadillac" benefits package that most state workers enjoy.

When the state spends $2 billion a year on prisons — nearly 20 percent of its annual general fund — any savings is welcome. And in this economy, no sound business leader would scoff at 10 percent savings.

The only question that remains is how well this private prison will perform when compared to the state’s standard-bearers. About two-thirds of the states in America have privatized at least some of their prisons, primarily to save money. Most have met with relative success.

But in Mississippi, a privatized youth prison is the target of a federal investigation into brutality claims, and a report by the Michigan Corrections Organization claims that the Baldwin facility when opened previously had three times as many violent incidents as other maximum-security prisons in the state. The organization, which does have a stake in this fight, as it represents unionized prison security guards, attributed these incidents to lower staffing levels.

As state legislators look to save what could amount to several million dollars during the next two years of this experiment, we urge them to institute safeguards and adequate oversight of this facility. Make sure our taxpayers get their money’s worth, and that inmates are given the same due care as they would receive in a state-run facility.

If done correctly, this privatized prison could multiple into many more, thus multiplying the state’s savings and decreasing the benefits burden.

In the end, if a private enterprise can get the same quality of job done for less money, then have at it. That’s called capitalism.

Our Views reflects the majority opinion of the members of the Grand Haven Tribune editorial board: Kevin Hook, Cheryl Welch, Matt DeYoung and Fred VandenBrand. What do you think? E-mail us a letter to the editor to news@grandhaventribune.com or log-in to our website and leave a comment below.

Comments

Lena

Remember that these prisoners are someone's son, husband or loved one. They aren't all murderers and sexual predators. Most can actually be rehabilitated. Be watchful of private prisons. The "Punk Prison" almost ruined mine. I truly believe had he been placed in a conventional prison, ran by qualified State employees, he would have stood a much better chance.

Quote concerning the Baldwin Punk Prison:

"The wrong kids are going to the youth prison", said Jon Cisky, a former state senator who worked on the juvenile justice package and is now a criminal justice professor at Saginaw University.

"A kid in on a b&e doesn't belong in a maximum-security prison", said Cisky, who also works with a company specializing in juvenile rehabilitation. (Lansing Bureau)

After an expose' by the Grand Rapids Press into allegations of abuse and staff shortages, the state removed 140 inmates from this Wackenhut facility. One sign of trouble, critics say, is the high number of suicide attempts from last October through March. Legislative hearings have been called for.

I guess we never learn by past mistakes.

itsgettingold

Privatized prisons are a terrible idea. How about we reform our prison system. What will happen when greedy capitalists get control of our prisons? The incarceration numbers will go up.

drayman86

The tone of the piece decries any semblance of even the beginnings of an intelligent discussion on the topic of the costs of prisons in Michigan. Michigan continues to spend more on incarcerating our citizens than we do on our universities, yet this editorial board's response it to "have at it, that's capitalism" in response.

In the United States of America, we lock up five times as many people as the rest of the industrialized world. Our prisons are awash with the mentally ill and non-violent drug offenders. The prison industry in this country is a multi-billion dollar money machine that is fueled by greed and fed by human misery and suffering.

The editorial board of The Grand Haven Tribune would serve it's readers better by furthering a discussion about why our society feels the need to incarcerate our citizenry at such an alarming rate, which costs Michigan money that could be better spent elsewhere, when the offenders behind bars are majority non-violent offenders.

Lanivan

You make good points drayman86. I would like to add the following as additional background information on the drive to privitize..http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/2...

Retired Correct...

Private Prisons promise savings? They promised this before and it did not happen! Private prisons are not where the savings should be looked for... Consider, a private company would not remain in business long if it did not MAKE A PROFIT. Their profit comes in the form of taxpayer dollars, not from citizens that wish to purchase their product.

Please explain what you consider, a "cadillac" benefits package... And this time leave out the sarcasm included in "...eliminating the burden of a "Cadillac" benefits package that most state workers enjoy." Because the last time I looked, I have yet to receive my golden parachute of millions for running a business into the ground, as some very few private sector workers enjoy.

As for prisoners being someone's relative. It [family] did not seem to be an issue or deterrent for the convicted felon when they CHOSE to break the law. They are in prison for two reasons; 1. to separate them from society; and 2. for punishment. If they cared about what their families thought, maybe they would have chosen differently - we may never know.

Mystic Michael

What the Tribune editorial board apparently fails to grasp - what conservatives in general fail to grasp - is that private enterprise and government are two fundamentally different, and largely incompatible, entities. Each has a legitimate function to serve - but it is not the same function.

Business is all about profit. Government is all about public service and public accountability. Whenever those two functions are confused, conflated and/or merged, trouble follows.

It is for this very reason that private correctional facilities have a well-documented and well-deserved reputation as breeding grounds for brutality and barbarism. Why? Because the financial incentives to cut costs in order to maximize profit override the public accountability to provide rehabilitation services, and to treat the prisoners humanely.

Drayman86 got it right: Privatized prisons are only the visible tip of the iceberg of a huge prison-industrial complex in this country - driven not so much by legitimate incarceration needs as by the machinations of a greedy corporate plutocracy, bent on taking over legitimate governmental functions in order to plunder taxpayer dollars, and enabled by corrupt or deluded right-wing politicians - some of whom are likely taking kickbacks or have other illegitimate financial interests in corporatized prisons.

It may be "called capitalism". But that doesn't make it good government.

Mystic Michael

What the Tribune editorial board apparently fails to grasp - what conservatives in general fail to grasp - is that private enterprise and government are two fundamentally different, and largely incompatible, entities. Each has a legitimate function to serve - but it is not the same function.

Business is all about profit. Government is all about public service and public accountability. Whenever those two functions are confused, conflated and/or merged, trouble follows.

It is for this very reason that private correctional facilities have a well-documented and well-deserved reputation as breeding grounds for brutality and barbarism. Why? Because the financial incentives to cut costs in order to maximize profit override the public accountability to provide rehabilitation services, and to treat the prisoners humanely.

Drayman86 got it right: Privatized prisons are only the visible tip of the iceberg of a huge prison-industrial complex in this country - driven not so much by legitimate incarceration needs as by the machinations of a greedy corporate plutocracy, bent on taking over legitimate governmental functions in order to plunder taxpayer dollars, and enabled by corrupt or deluded right-wing politicians - some of whom are likely taking kickbacks or have other illegitimate financial interests in corporatized prisons.

It may be "called capitalism". But that doesn't make it good government.

Vladtheimp

[b] what conservatives in general fail to grasp - is that private enterprise and government are two fundamentally different, and largely incompatible, entities. Each has a legitimate function to serve - but it is not the same function.[/b]

What liberals in general fail to grasp is that government cannot take over inherently private enterprise functions and perform them as well as private enterprise, and overburdening federal regulations have the effect of taking over private sector functions.

Government has surely taken over large areas of the Auto Industry, Banking and Financial industries, Student Loans, Energy, and Health Care with poor results.

President Obama's automotive task force decided that the Chevy Volt, would be too expensive to survive in the marketplace and ended up paying huge subsidies for its manufacture, even though it has sold few cars. It decided, on the basis of the global warming scam, that GM was producing too many trucks and SUVs, no matter that's what the consumers want and the private sector would have provided.

Now students can only get education loans through the government, and the cost has skyrocketed. Manufacturers can't produce 75 or 100 watt light bulbs, even though that is what consumers want. If the public, rather than federal bureaucrats were permitted to determine whether or not global warming is a serious concern, they could buy these cheap sources of light instead of mercury laden and expensive government required bulbs.

Our health insurance is now a government industry. Health insurers have no control over their prices, who they will insure, and what illnesses they will cover. Doctors can't make independent judgments about what prescriptions and surgeries they recommend.

If we look at the success of government's handling of truly governmental functions which are now broke, such as the Post Office, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Department of Energy, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AMTRAK, the Department of Energy, and the Federal Budget to name a few, is it any wonder conservatives are less worried about the few examples where the private sector is undertaking governmental functions?

Lanivan

Mystic Michael (love your name) - thank you for your concise and thoughtful commentary. Now, Vlad - where does one start? Generally speaking, your opinions are on the stale side. As much as you have perfected the role of nay-sayer, your argument that prisons should automatically be privatized because private industry always trump the government just doesn't hold up.

There are so many current and historical instances of private industry doing great harm to society, I can't address them properly in this post, but I would like to comment on some of your "allegations":

1.) "gov't has taken over the auto, banking, etc to poor results". The last time I checked, the auto industry has gone from literally hours from liquidation to making record profits, thanks to the Obama bailout. As to the Chevy Volt - remember the adage you have to spend money to make money? You might want to stop in at the car show next week in Detroit - insiders tell me there are some great models coming out - hybrids, electric - thanks to the R&D behind the Volt. Actually, gas-efficient cars ARE what people want these days. I know some of us love our SUV's - I remember the excitment the day I first got a new one. Those days are over for most of us - I now find excitement in my 42 mpg model. Meanwhile, those same SUV's are still available for those of you who hold stock in oil companies - isn't choice wonderful?

Of course, need I remind you it was an under-regulated and under-supervised banking industry that helped to bring about the greatest recession since the Great Depression. So much for "an overburdening federal presence" bringing down the poor venture capitalists, sketchy loan cocktails, and massive global finanacial conglomerations. Meanwhile, thanks to a federal presence, the DOW is over 1300 - yeah stocks!!

2.) Another beleagured industry - health insurance. Really? I've been listening sympathetically to my doctor friends griping for years about the health insurance industry. It's hardly an industry under government attack. Just think what a federal program of Expanded Medicare for all (my personal favorite choice) might do to the private health insurance industry? I can't imagine the diatribe from you if/when that happens! If I'm not mistaken, you very possibly might qualify for Medicare. Isn't America great - you have options!

3.) Now the piece d'resistance - you bring up CFL bulbs? If memory serves me right, this was another annoyance for you way back in 2008. You can thank George W. Bush (remember him?) and a nearly unanimous Congress passing that piece of legislation in 2007 - one of his finest hours. Since then, CFL bulbs have improved, come down in price, saved people money - a lot of money - on their electic bills, and best of all, helped to reduce the mercury levels in the air we breathe. And people are buying them like crazy - private industry can't keep up. Your panic over mercury in the bulbs is a bit misdirected - the mercury in your watch battery or the silver in your fillings is greater. Ever walk the boardwalk? The amount of mercury coming out of those stacks of our coal burning electric plants is far more damaging to our communities than the miniscule amount in a cfl bulb. Besides - this is old school. The industry is now into LED technology among many others in a big way. And of course, incandescent is still available if that's what you prefer - Choices!

Privatization of school maintenance might make sense - privatization of prisons is a whole another ballgame. To make the argument that the federal government botches everything anyway, so why not hand the keys over to private industry, implying private industry never botches anything, is much too simplistic and not particularly persuasive these days.

A protege begs her debate mentor - let's find some fresh, new, pertinent, fact-based arguments.

Mystic Michael

Rather than reiterate the talking points of Lanivan's strong rebuttal, allow me to directly correct a couple more of your wild misconceptions:

- Student Loans: President Obama's recent reform of the Stafford Loan program did in fact take the middleman (i.e. the banks) out of the picture - because they had been siphoning away many millions of dollars in interest payments out of the pockets of students over the past 20+ years, while providing virtually no actual value in return. By returning the federal government to its previous role of direct lender, the President saved a huge pot of money, made that program far more cost-effective, and was able to provide additional funds to many more students in need. Win, win, win.

- United States Postal Service: So far as I am aware, the United States is the ONLY advanced industrial nation on earth that is determined to kill off its own postal service - primarily by starvation. Congress - and the Republican-dominated House of Representatives in particular - has been doing everything in its power to impose onerous, oppressive demands upon the USPS, while simultaneously depriving it of every conceivable resource - right down to a reasonable budget to buy paper clips & packing tape. Then they wonder why the USPS can't compete with the likes of FedEx and DHL! As is typical, Republicans insist that "government is broken" and that "government doesn't work" - then proceed to fulfill their own prophecy, as soon as they achieve power.

Considering the deep holes that Wall Street and the Big Three automakers dug for themselves as a result of their own extreme avarice and their own gross ineptitude and mismanagement, I find it highly ironic that it took the so-called "socialist" administration of President Obama to, in effect, save capitalism...from itself.

But that's because corporations, unchecked by oversight or regulation, behave more or less like viruses - or perhaps more like parasites - blindly following the prime directive to grow, grow, grow at all costs - even to the point of killing off their own host. In this case, the "host" was the entire United States economy.

Lanivan

Where have you been, Mystic Michael? For some time now, I've been swimming upstream and butting heads with a cadre of staunch anti-government, anti-Obama, anti....(fill in the blanks) passionate mindsets. I welcome your rebuttal points - you have nailed it - and hope in future you are called again to speak your objective voice of reason and progressive thinking. A sincere thanks for the oxygen your posts on this page have given me.

beentheretoo

The only way to save money is with pay and benefits of staff ..I don't believe for 1 minute they can save any where else where it would amount to anything...private prisons do however contribute to political campaigns ...The state and those politicians that run it should not abdicate this type of responsibility

 

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