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Speaker say private prison may not fit NH

Union Leader News

September 09. 2012 12:49AM
Caroline Isaacs, program director for the American Friends Service Committee’s Arizona office, joins Arnie Alpert, the AFSC’s New Hampshire program coordinator, to talk to a small group in Nashua last week about the potential problems with privately run prisons. (KIMBERLY HOUGHTON/Union Leader Correspondent)

NASHUA - Officials considering hiring a private company to run a New Hampshire prison should talk to their counterparts in Arizona, where privatization did not bring promised savings, according to a researcher.

Caroline Isaacs, program director at the American Friends Service Committee in Tucson, wrote a report titled 'Private Prisons, the Public's Problem: A Quality Assessment of Arizona's Private Prisons.' She spoke to a small gathering at the Nashua Unitarian Church last week, one stop during a three-day visit to the state.

'This is a very big decision in New Hampshire,'' Isaacs told the group. 'The biggest thing (in Arizona) was the promise to save money with private prisons. However, this has not proven to be the case in Arizona. We found we were losing money on our private contracts and paying more to those operators than we would to hold (inmates) in a state equivalent unit.'

From 2008 to 2010, Isaacs said, Arizona spent $3.5 million more each year on contracts with private prisons compared with the cost or running public prisons.

New Hampshire is reviewing proposals from four companies to build and/or manage a men's prison, including from Corrections Corporation of America of Nashville, Tenn., which owns and operates six prisons in Arizona.

Steve Owen, its spokesman, said 'the cited 'report' is a stale rehash of recycled attacks against partnership corrections, authored by individuals with no practical correctional experience.'

William McGonagle, assistant commissioner for the New Hampshire Department of Corrections, said he read Isaacs' report months ago and said the 'data is pretty well-researched.

'Once you get the data, then everyone puts their judgments on it. I look at the information and try to avoid just consuming the opinion that goes along with it,' he said. 'It's just one more piece of information that we are using to formulate our questions for the calls we'll be making' to officials in states with private prisons.

Isaacs also spoke in Concord, Keene and Lancaster.

She said one of the most significant costs is medical care, and there are also transportation contracts, administration costs, money spent on drug-sniffing dogs and more.

'There is a belief that the private sector does everything better than governmental institutions,' but that's not the case with running prisons, Isaac said.

Although the contents of the New Hampshire bids are still confidential, the names of the bidders and some details of their proposals have become public.

Three of the four bidders - Corrections Corporation of America, The GEO Group and Management and Training Corporation - run prisons in Arizona.

The fourth is the NH Hunt Justice Group, a partnership involving LaSalle Corrections Co., which has proposed operating in Arizona, according to the Arizona Republic.

'The record these corporations have created is the best way to predict what would happen if any of them gained control of prisons here,' said Arnie Alpert, the American Friends Service Committee's New Hampshire program coordinator, who joined Isaacs on her tour.

McGonagle said next month the governor's office as well as the commissioners for the Corrections and Administrative Services departments should receive evaluations of the proposals and information on how privatization fared in other states.

He doesn't know when a decision will be made on whether to proceed with privatization or which company might be chosen.

Pablo Paez, spokesman for The GEO Group, which operates three prisons in Arizona, said privatizing prisons works across the country.

'The use of public-private partnerships has been independently validated to achieve significant savings for taxpayers while improving the quality of offender rehabilitation programs,' he said in an email. 'Our company has a long-standing track record in the delivery of correctional management services through public-private partnerships in states across the country. These partnerships have delivered high-quality services and offender programming at a significant savings to taxpayers.'

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