February 28 is New Deadline
New Hampshire’s Executive Council voted today to extend the contract of a private consultant that has been evaluating proposals from four firms interested in for-profit operation of the state’s prison system. The consultant, MGT of America, now has until February 28, 2013, to complete its work.
The original contract, approved by the Council in July, called for the firm to turn in its report by October 5 and to be available until the end of that month to explain its findings. When that date arrived, the company was given an extra ten days. When October 15 arrived, the Department of Administrative Services said completion of the report would be delayed until mid-November. When mid-November arrived, Administrative Services said the report would be done in mid-December.
MGT will not get additional payment beyond the $171,000 of the original contract.
The main impact of delay is that MGT, Administrative Services, and the Department of Corrections will be reporting at the end of February to a new Governor and a changed Executive Council.
Bob Sanders of New Hampshire Business Review reported this morning:
The state received the four bids last spring after issuing a relatively vague request for proposal last spring to build and perhaps run a prison to handle all of the state’s inmates. Thus far, no other state has turned its entire prison population over to a private company.
That RFP was the result of even vaguer legislation – never debated by lawmakers but instead tucked into a large budget bill — that appeared to be more interested in looking at shipping inmates out of state to private facilities elsewhere. However, the wording morphed into an RFP for a private prison company to set up a facility so large that it would have the capacity to import prisoners in from other states, an idea favored by outgoing Gov. John Lynch.
Asked by outgoing Councilor Dan St. Hilaire if it is still worth it to finish this project, Commissioner Linda Hodgdon of Administrative Services told the Governor and Council the report would put a “whole comprehensive report in front of you” for consideration as they look into whether and how to replace the women’s prison in Goffstown and the men’s prison in Concord.
When retiring Councilor Ray Wieczorek said the information would help the new Governor and Council decide whether to pursue privatization, Governor Lynch said there are many forms of privatization. “We need a new women’s prison and at some point we’re going to need a new prison in Concord,” he said.
Lynch has been promoting an approach in which the state would contract with a private firm to finance, build, and own a major prison that would then be leased to the state. The ostensible advantage is that the state would not have to worry about financing a major construction project. The political advantage would be that the expensive enterprise would be handled as a contract by the Governor and Council, thereby evading the Legislature’s always thrifty capital budget process. But once the contract is signed, the Legislature would have little choice but to include payments in the biennial state budget.
Such an approach would also give a for-profit prison company a position from which it could make the case for full-scale privatization.
When Chris Sununu, the Council’s most vocal privatization supporter, asked why the process had been delayed, Hodgdon said the analysis was “more complicated than any of us thought.”
Each of the four firms responded to a complex Request for Proposals that asked for details on plans to build and operate a men’s prison and a prison that would house both men and women. Each proposal presumably also includes the build/lease option for both types of facilities. That means there are 16 proposals to analyze, not four, and that they all need to be compared to status quo arrangements and to construction and operation of new facilities fully in the hands of the state.
Privatization opponents hope to talk soon with newly elected Councilors.
Today was also Organization Day for the newly elected Legislature. The House bears little resemblance to the pro-privatization gang that ran the joint for the previous two years. Legislation to prohibit privatization may meet a warm reception.