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February 8, 2012

Two diverse state prison stories provide would-be reformers "follow-the-money" lessons

Two new state prison reform media reports (both of which I saw thanks the to my daily read of The Crime Report) provide still more evidence that modern state stories concerning proposed or enacted prison reforms — and views about their benefits or success — is more about budget realities than any other concern or criteria.  The stories, linked below, come from two very different states with different on-going debates, and yet the headlines highlight the recurring theme:

"Debate on Florida private prisons hinges on cost":

As state lawmakers consider a massive expansion of prison privatization, one number dominates the debate: 7 percent.  That’s how much savings the legislation requires of private prison operators compared to state-run prisons.  “I believe in it,” says Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island. “It’s incumbent upon me to find the best deal for the taxpayer.”

But that number is subjective and the state’s own analysts warn against comparing prison costs because no two prisons are alike and it’s difficult to make precise cost comparisons between public and private prisons.  “You can make something look like a savings on paper,” says Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland.  “We’re not saving money.  Absolutely not.”

Privatization has polarized the Legislature into two camps: one sees outsourcing as a proven way to cut costs; the other views it as a risky undertaking riddled with hidden costs.

"State inmates' return to Pa. boosts county economies":

In early 2010, in an effort to ease the burden of the state's prison system, Gov. Ed Rendell announced that Pennsylvania would contract with Michigan and Virginia to move 2,000 low-risk inmates to facilities in those states.

Over the ensuing months, Pennsylvania sent millions of dollars out of state, at the same time taking criticism from advocacy groups that such a move interfered with family visitation, which in turn, interferes with successful reintegration into the community. "Ninety percent of our inmates will return home someday, and helping them maintain family support is vital to their successful return into society," said Janet Kelly, a spokeswoman with Gov. Tom Corbett's office.

That's why, she said, in combination with the idea that when possible Pennsylvania's money should stay local, Mr. Corbett early in his administration declared that those inmates should be returned and housed, instead, in county facilities.

February 8, 2012 at 11:31 AM | Permalink

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