Archive for Monday, May 1, 2006

Legislature expected to pass private prisons bill

Prisoners would be able to move into counties only where voters approve measure

May 1, 2006


For-profit prisons aren't likely to pop up across the Kansas plains overnight if, as expected, the Legislature approves a law this week allowing the prisons to be built here.

In fact, the law wouldn't necessarily mean that private prisons would ever be used to house existing Kansas prisoners. But it would allow for the industry to set up shop and begin housing out-of-state prisoners in any Kansas county where voters approve the idea.

In Frank Smith's view, it's a slippery slope. Smith, a critic of private prisons who lives in Bluff City, believes that Kansas is "buying a lemon" by opening the door to a business he claims is fundamentally flawed.

"I don't believe you can have an efficacious private prison because the profit motive rules everything," he said. "I don't think there are any legitimate protections in this bill. They can build anywhere they can convince the locals - the rubes and hicks - that it's not such a bad thing."

What the law says

Efforts to allow private prisons have failed repeatedly in the Legislature in recent years. But this year the prison bill found new life after it was "bundled" with a law increasing sentences for child molesters.

The Legislature is expected to take up the bill this week as it enters the second week of its wrap-up session.

Under the law, private contractors could build and operate prisons that would be under the oversight of the Kansas Department of Corrections. Private prison companies would be required to submit a plan to the state for dealing with emergencies at the prisons, and they would be liable for all emergency-related costs.

If the private operator becomes unable to run the prison, there's no obligation for the state to step in and assume costs.

Woodson County in southeast Kansas is expected to be the first place in the state to allow a private prison should the law pass.

"This would not save us by any means, but it would give us a cornerstone in economic development," County Commissioner Gwen Martin said. "I think the majority of the population feels very secure about having the prison here."

Secretary concerned

Martin said she didn't understand why some people were so vocally opposed to private prisons, given that Kansas occasionally has contracted with private prisons in Texas and Colorado to house overflow prisoners.

Roger Werholtz, secretary of the Kansas Department of Corrections, said he doesn't pretend that public prisons are problem-free, but that he's not sure the cost savings with private prisons are as great as some people believe.

"I'm not a fan of them," he said. "I don't support them, but if that's going to be the policy of the state, the language in the statute needs to be as strong as possible in terms of regulating operations and construction of the prisons so as to protect the state's financial interests and protect public safety."

Werholtz said he was concerned that the private-prison industry supported "tough-on-crime" policies as a way to drive up demand.

"I have to say I am concerned about that," he said. "I have seen no evidence that that's taking place in Kansas."

Another worry, he said, is that pressure eventually would grow to start housing Kansas Department of Corrections prisoners at a private prison in the state.

"You start getting decisions made not on the basis of what is good correctional practice," he said. "You get them made on what is the best economic interests of that community."

Colorado problem

Smith, a retired social worker, argues that private prisons are chronically understaffed and don't pay enough to keep good employees. He said there's no hard evidence that there are more disturbances inside private prisons, but that the mingling of out-of-state inmate populations - who often have unequal treatment because of differences in their states' respective contracts - is an inherent problem.

On July 20, 2004, inmates at the privately run Crowley County Correctional Facility near Pueblo, Colo., demanded to speak to a warden about grievances. One problem was that a group of recently imported inmates from Washington state were earning $60 a month for work assignments, compared with $18.60 for Colorado inmates.

The inmates were denied an audience, and they grew hostile. The staff was inexperienced and had not had enough training for an emergency, according to a report by the Colorado Department of Corrections.

So the staff evacuated. Inmates started fires, broke into the management offices, and broke water pipes, sinks and toilets, causing cells to flood with contaminated water.

A pending lawsuit filed by inmates alleges that when a special-operations team came in with backup to reclaim the prison, guards brutalized inmates - forcing them to lie face-down in contaminated water and dragging people from their cells by their ankles. As the night went on, inmates were forced to urinate and defecate in their pants because they weren't allowed to go to the restroom, the suit alleges.

Steve Owen is a spokesman for Tennessee-based Corrections Corporation of America, which runs the Colorado prison where the riot happened. He said that since the event, the company has responded effectively and that the Colorado Department of Corrections has recently increased its use of the prison.

"Regrettably, incidents do occur in corrections, and they occur in both private and public facilities," he said.

He pointed out that, despite critics' complaints, his company has a track record of a 95 percent renewal rate of its government contracts.

"To have that high of a renewal rate, we have to be doing something right," he said.


pundit 11 years, 12 months ago

This is all about one SE Kansas Legislator blackmailing the rest of the legislature... see

Private prisons are wrong for a multitude of reasons.

xenophonschild 11 years, 12 months ago

Amen to that. The point about being able to hire/retain qualified staff is more significant than they're letting on.

james dick 11 years, 12 months ago

OK Kansans. Get ready for crime to swell, numbers of prisoners to increase, and the increased criminalization of behavior. If you don't like this scenario, then oppose this privatization plan.

mefirst 11 years, 12 months ago

Yes, this is bad policy. More prisons for the sake of economic development? Talk about a lack of creativity. Surely there are other options to advance economic development, aside from locking up more drug offenders (as opposed to drug treatment) and other petty, non-violent criminals.

xenophonschild 11 years, 12 months ago

The only reason some of us got out of the joint in the first place was because "bed space" was so scarce, and they had loads of young gangbangers with boatloads of time coming in.

If they manage to create more "bed space," the word will go out to the parole mutts that it's okay to start violating more guys, and fill the joints back up.

So, yeah, this is bad policy.

Frank Smith 11 years, 12 months ago

Though Woodson county thinks it will get rich by inviting a private prison, there are studies from all over the U.S. showing that the exact opposite is the case. They present a drain on rural communities. The comments about the naive locals is absolutely correct. But Woodson county has little to fear. The chances of attracting enough $8-an-hour untrained prison guards stupid enough to work out there in the boondocks is zero to none.

JohnBLZ 11 years, 12 months ago

Listen, I respect your right to your opinions...but please educate yourself on the specifics in this case prior to forming one...

Woodson county is one of the poorest counties in this state...Economic development is something that has been near and dear to this community for years, but nothing has worked to reverse the current trend of tax base degradation to date...

Kropotkin..where are your sources?

Pundit...that's a libelious comment.. Slander anyone?

What would all of you suggest to alleviate this problem?

I'm a fairly liberal democrat myself...and NIMBY is in full effect here...however what do you do to solve two major problems? Prison space and economic development...

An $8/hour job with benefits in Woodson county would be a godsend... This is a community where you can still buy a 4 bedroom house sitting on 3 acres with two barns for under $30k... easily affordable on that $8/hour job...

GOPConservative 11 years, 12 months ago

What a waste of tax dollars when we put a nonviolent person in prison. The cost ranges upwards of $50,000 per year. It would be even more for "private prisons."

Each time we lock up some kid for gathering and smoking a weed that grows wild, we are wasting tax money. The waste is not only the direct costs of law enforcement, prosecution and prison, but also the inability for an incarcerated person to earn wages and pay taxes during the prime years of his life.

Wasting tax dollars trying to enforce the unenforceable is a double whammy to our tax system and a perfect example of the fiscal liberalism and big-government socialism that has taken over my Party.

And it seems to never end. The religious socialists keep coming up with more crimes and more reasons to put someone in prison. As xenophonschild mentioned, if there is bed space available, religious crackpots like Attorney General Phill Kline will figure out ways to fill them and piss away more tax dollars.

Conservative man's scenario may not be that far off, except that once the religious extremists are able to install full socialistic controls on women, I can imagine many women being locked away and detained just because they are "at risk" of pregnancy due to their refusal to take a "celibacy oath."

Right now, something like 85% of girls who take celibacy oaths break them. Celibacy oaths break much more frequently than condoms.

After they outlaw abortion, the theocratic socialists may have to pass other laws allowing them to detain oath-breaking pregnant girls to prevent them from having illegal abortions.

At the least, the religious socialists will need more prison space to incarcerate all the women caught getting illegal abortions and to incarcerate those who provide them.

It is even worse when private corporations take their cut from these already wasted prison tax dollars. We have far too many monopolistic corporations in America that exist only to suck up our tax dollars. We should be working to get corporations off the public dole, not increase them.

Big government intrusion into our personal private lives through theocratic socialism and fiscal liberalism is against the basic principles of the Republican Party, which used to stand for ideas like "live and let live" and "the government is best that governs least."

xenophonschild 11 years, 12 months ago

"We should be working to get corporations off the public dole, not increase them."

Hallelujah! That is the single best sentence I've read, ever, on any post on this site. Prisons are bad enough; for-profit prisons are an abomination.

A thought in passing: When someone is killed in one of these for-profit abominations - doesn't matter if it's staff or inmate - watch and see what a complete, utter mess they make of it.

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