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House votes to prohibit prison privatization, bill moves to Senate for review

CONCORD -- The House on Thursday voted to forbid the executive branch from privatizing the state prison system, saying that to do so would shirk the state’s constitutional responsibility to rehabilitate inmates.

The 197-136 roll call by the Democratic -controlled House sent House Bill 443 to the Senate, where Republicans hold a slim, 13-11 majority and the bill’s fate is uncertain, at best.

The legislation, while prohibiting prison privatization, allows the governor to enter into a temporary contract with a private provider during times of a “corrections emergency” with the approval of the Executive Council.

The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee had recommended that the bill pass on a 13-5 vote.

Those who opposed the bill said that with a study of privatization underway, it is premature to have a ban take effect. A move to table pending more information on privatization failed.

Rep. Dan McGuire, R-Epsom, argued that the state should not prevent itself from undertaking a private option. He said the prison population is expanding.

But Rep. Robert Cushing, D-Hampton, privatizing prisons “is different than talking about who is going to pick up our garbage and plow our roads.

“I don’t think we should be outsourcing incarceration,” he said.

He said the state constitution requires the state to rehabilitate its prisoners, “yet there is a financial incentive for a private operator to keep those cells filled” and “fill corporate coffers.

“When we take somebody’s liberty away from them, those who are overseeing that bondage should be responsible to the Governor of New Hampshire as opposed to a corporate entity,” said Cushing.

House Republican Leader Gene Chandler argued unsuccessfully that with a study underway, “There are facts coming in on the issue and we have an obligation to look at the facts.”

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