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April 09. 2012 10:41PM

NH officials face flood of plans for private prisons

CONCORD — So much material has been submitted in response to the state's Request for Proposals for contractors to take over its prison facilities that it is now drafting another RFP to help review the plans.

The Department of Administrative Services received bids from four companies, including the three largest private prison operators in the world — Tennessee-based Corrections Corp. of America, Florida-based Geo Group Inc., and Management and Training Corp., based in Utah. The fourth is the NH Hunt Justice Group, a newly formed partnership led by Hunt Companies, a construction company, and LaSalle Corrections, a smaller prison operator. Both are based in Texas.

The RFP gave the bidders the option of building a new prison facility to house all of the inmates at the state's main penitentiary, the State Prison for Men in Concord, as well as all of the state's female inmates. They could also take over operation of the facility or facilities. The bidders could either rehabilitate the aging Concord prison or build on a new site.

For the male prison facility alone, the materials submitted by the companies fill more than 40 boxes, according to Commissioner Linda Hodgdon.

She would not disclose additional information about the bids, citing confidentiality rules around the RFP process. Bid information would not be made public until a decision on the contract is made; that would be late summer at the earliest, she said.

An evaluation team is being assembled to review the bids. It will include representatives from the Department of Corrections and other agencies, as well as any outside consultants, Hodgdon said.

At a legislative hearing in February, at least one lawmaker raised concerns that DOC officials could not be objective in reviewing the proposals, since they have testified against privatization.

Hodgdon said she expected the evaluation team would be ready to present its recommendation to the governor and the executive council in the late summer.

“Our job is to make sure we have a fair and above-board process and that all people have a fair shot at bidding on the contract,” she said.

This is not the first time state officials have eyed privatizing prisons as a way to reduce the corrections budget — and the idea has always generated controversy.

Critics of the private prison industry, including human rights groups and corrections unions, have argued that the profit motive compromises public safety and leads to prisoner mistreatment. They often cite long “rap sheets” describing escapes, beatings and other abuses at privately run facilities.

Industry supporters reject such charges and argue that private prisons are a cost-effective way for states to control swelling corrections budgets while meeting demand for additional space.

In November, the state issued its RFP, which was authorized by Gov. John Lynch as part of his budget. He also promoted the effort in his state-of-the-state address in January.

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