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 firstname.lastname@example.org or log-in to our website and leave a comment below.