February 10. 2013 4:25PM

A reactionary ban: The prison privatization option

Supporters of commuter rail in New Hampshire want to spend $3.6 million of taxpayer money to study the benefits of commuter rail because, they say, commuter rail is so beneficial. Conversely, Rep. Timothy Robertson, D-Keene, has introduced a bill to go ahead and ban private prisons, though a state-commissioned study of the value of private prisons is not due until later this month. If so much taxpayer money were not involved, this would be funny.

New Hampshire's prisons are crowded, say corrections officials. Private prisons provide the state with one option for housing more inmates at a lower cost.

Also, if a New Hampshire prison burns or otherwise has to be evacuated suddenly, private prisons are there to take our inmates in an emergency, Corrections Commissioner William Wrenn says.

At a legislative hearing last week, Wrenn testified against Robertson's House Bill 443, which would ban private prisons in New Hampshire. Wrenn is no booster of the private prison industry. He just understands what some legislators do not: that contracting with private businesses can, at least in some cases, provide the Department of Corrections a cost-effective way to provide its public service.

Privatization might not be right for most of New Hampshire's prisons. But the option should be generally available. An outright ban on private prisons would be irrational, reactionary and irresponsible.