This was published as an op-ed in the June 22, 2012 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper in N. Conway, NH
The state of NH is looking into privatizing its entire prison system. Four companies have submitted bids. If Governor Lynch and the Executive Council accept one of those bids, NH would become the first state in the nation to hand over the entire prison system to a private company. The four venders are:
Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), Management & Training Corporation (MTC), The Geo Group Inc. and the Hunt Companies.
None of these companies are altruists, who want to ensure that prisoners are rehabilitated and leave prison prepared to tackle the challenge of turning their lives around. These are private companies with only one interest: turning a profit. That means cutting corners in every way possible, while working to ensure that the prisons remain full.
A recent story in USA Today focuses on a deal being offered by one company in some 48 states. CCA is offering to buy prisons from cash strapped states, in exchange for a guarantee that the governments guarantee a 90% occupancy rate for at least 20 years.
If NH’s prison system becomes privatized, the corporation will be leaning on legislators to pass the kind of laws that guarantee harsher sentences, and fuller prisons. Other states will send their prisoners here. The corporation will build more even more prison facilities in the state, and I think you all can guess where those prisons will be. The north country seems to serve as the dumping ground for the rest of the state.
A study in Arizona revealed that the privatized prisons were actually costing the state more. The Arizona legislature responded to this by inserting a provision into the budget that eliminates the need for a cost and quality review. In other words, they didn’t like the report, so the solution is not to take action – the solution is to ensure there will be no further reports.
If you don’t think that could/would happen here, you haven’t been paying attention to the sorts of things the NH legislature has done in the last biennium.
CCA has eliminated about 240 jobs in their Colorado prisons. Remember, this is a business. Profit means cutting costs, and that doesn’t leave a lot of choice in a prison. It means hiring people who aren’t well educated or trained, and as few of them as possible. It means cutting back on programs for sex offenders and addicts. It means a lot of solitary confinement. No need to have a big staff if everyone is locked in a cell 23 hours a day.
There is a reason other states don’t do this. It’s a really bad idea.
Apparently studies and numbers really are a bad idea. A story just now making the rounds in northern New England reports that the ski business in the US as a whole experienced its worst winter since the early 1990’s. In 2011, visits to alpine areas in NH were down by 20% from the year before. The ski industry continues to try to make the case that if folks don’t see snow in their back yards, they don’t come to the mountains to go skiing, but in these days of easily accessible information, that’s just lame.
A story in the Laconia Sun about bike week revealed that no one wants to come up with any numbers about attendance. If it had been huge, they’d be falling all over themselves to speculate. It wasn’t huge, as was quite obvious to anyone who has lived in this area for six or seven years. There were bikes, but not nearly as many as there have been in the past.
No one likes to tell these stories or recount these facts. The US is the only country that is in denial of climate change. Those changes are affecting our winters. Only the most devout anti-science ostriches can deny that our snowfall is diminishing. Another factor here that no one wants to get into is the economy. Since the 2008 collapse of the economy, the news media and many economists have fallen all over themselves to present this as a recession, even calling it “the great recession.”
Earlier this month, Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman spoke at the 2012 Netroots Nation gathering in Providence, RI. Krugman calls our current economic situation a depression. At NN he said, “When things are going down, it’s a recession. When things are down for a long time, it’s a depression.” Of course we can’t call it what it really is, because that would look bad, and it might call into question our obscene level of military spending. Krugman also said, “This is not an economic problem, this is a political problem.” He’s right. The US has rebounded from a depression before. We know how to do it.
We have a Congress that isn’t interested in solving problems; they’re interested in preventing solutions. They would prefer to ensure greater destruction rather than let the black guy appear to succeed. These aren’t public servants; these are rabid ideologues that will destroy us, if we let them.
We have rabid ideologues in NH, too. On Facebook the other day, the Conway Sun asked what questions readers would ask 2012 candidates. I would ask all of our local candidates for the NH House and Senate how they intend to solve NH’s infrastructure problems. Our roads, bridges, and dams are in trouble, and our telecommunications infrastructure is no better. The bad economy is hurting tourism, as is the change in our climate. Tourism is NH’s second largest industry. We don’t fund our state parks adequately. We have rows of outhouses at our information centers, something that should be a source of great shame to us all, here in the wealthiest state in the union.
If they tell you we can privatize, cigarette tax and/or casino our way out of this mess, they’re lying. Casino revenues are down at Foxwoods, in Atlantic City, and in Nevada. NH needs to have some serious discussions. I wish I thought that would happen. In a state where the media functions as the propaganda wing of the NH GOP, it seems unlikely.
“He who is afraid of asking is ashamed of learning.” Danish proverb