New Hampshire’s Executive Council will vote July 11 on a $171,347 contract with MGT of America to analyze proposals from four companies interested in taking over the state’s prisons and running them for profit.
So far the fact that private prison companies have extensive records of scandalous performance has not halted the process. The record from other states provides ample evidence that instead of producing savings or improved services, privatization leads to decreased public safety, worse conditions for prisoners, worse working conditions for prison employees, and no savings for taxpayers. If the Executive Councilors are doing their homework, they will say “no” now to privatization, reject the consultant contract, and save the state a pile of money. That’s not likely.
But the tawdry record of the privateers could be revealed if MGT does its job. The contract explicitly calls on the consultant to “identify performance and financial risks associated with privatization options” and to “compare the costs and benefits of government management of the detention system with potential privatization of the facility.” We won’t know, though, until their report is completed in early October.
In a recent opinion column published in the Concord Monitor, Nashua Telegraph, and Keene Sentinel, I wrote that “the public deserves a full and open airing of the privatization issue,” which has thus far been evaluated mostly beyond eyes and ears of the public.
Privatization opponents (I’m one of them) have just launched a new web-site to make information and action needs easy to find.
According to the documents under review by the Executive Council, “Late last year the Department of Administrative Services in conjunction with the Department of Corrections (DOC) released a series of three Request for Proposals (RFPs) for the construction and/or renovation/expansion of prison facilities for the State. As a result of these RFPs, the State received a host of responses from interested vendors, offering a wide array of options for facilities design, construction, renovation, expansion and/or operation.”
“During the process of evaluating these varied proposals,” the document continues, “it was determined that it would be beneficial to hire a consulting firm to assist in the evaluation, particularly in relation to the operational/financial analysis of the proposals.” MGT of America appears to have been the sole bidder for the job.
The privatization inquiry was initiated by the Legislature, which ordered the DOC to consider privatizing the state’s prisons. Four firms – Corrections Corporation of America, the GEO Group, Management and Training Corporation, and the Hunt Justice Group, which has recently merged with the CGL Corporation – submitted bids. Unlike most contract proposals, in which the state proposes to purchase a specific product or service, the prison RFP gave vendors a wide variety of options. And since the DOC was ordered only to investigate privatization, it is also an option for all four proposals to be rejected.
The job of the consultant, assuming the contract is approved, is to develop a way for the state to compare proposals from the four companies, and also compare them with the non-privatization option.
MGT’s work would start July 11 and extend through the end of October, according to the contract. Its report – which could recommend a contract with one of the 4 vendors or reject the privatization option — would be submitted by October 5.
New Hampshire’s Executive Council is a relatively obscure but extremely powerful part of the state government. In a sense a leftover from the early post-colonial period when American revolutionaries were intensely suspicious of executive power, the five members of the Council have to ratify most gubernatorial appointments and all contracts above $10,000. The Council would also vote on a privatization contract if one emerges from the MGT study. Based on the timing, details of a privatization deal could become public just as the election campaign is heating up.