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Tuesday, October 21, 2014         

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Let's find out true cost of privatized incarceration

By Daniel Gluck

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Over the past 15 years, Hawaii has spent hundreds of millions of dollars incarcerating Hawaii inmates in mainland prisons operated by a for-profit company -- the Corrections Corp. of America ("CCA").

Incredibly, the state has never conducted an independent audit of its non-bid contracts with CCA. The urgent need for a thorough audit -- and a reality check about the true costs of incarcerating nearly 1,900 of Hawaii's people in a private, for-profit prison -- has never been clearer.

 

In the past year alone, two Hawaii inmates have been murdered at the CCA Saguaro facility (the men's prison in Arizona). Allegations of sex assault at the CCA Otter Creek facility (the women's prison in Kentucky) were so pervasive that Hawaii finally removed its women from CCA custody.

To respond to these crises -- and widespread allegations of rampant constitutional violations -- the Legislature recently passed House Bill 415, which calls for an independent audit of Hawaii's contract with CCA. The audit bill asks for a comparison, "in terms of quality of programming, costs, and economic benefit to the state," of Hawaii's and CCA's prisons. Among other things, the Legislature questioned the cost-effectiveness of prison privatization and discussed that the current system may not save Hawaii money in the short or long term.

HB 415 is currently waiting for the governor's signature, and we encourage her to sign that bill into law. Hawaii's people deserve to know the real costs, the real conditions and the real impact of privatized incarceration.

The state Department of Public Safety claims that private prisons save money, but the public has no way to evaluate whether those statements are true. The per-day, per-inmate cost the number the department uses to justify the CCA contracts does not account for factors such as the economic benefits of providing local jobs such as prison guards, administrative professionals, psychologists and drug counselors, local food suppliers, delivery services and the ripple effect that those jobs have on the local economy. The department's numbers do not factor in the possibility that inmates at CCA may serve longer terms than those in Hawaii (because CCA has a profit motive to keep its beds full). Missing also from the per-day cost figures are transportation costs between Hawaii and the mainland for inmates' travel to and from court appearances; the potential lack of programs that may prevent inmates from re-offending; and the reality that inmates from Hawaii will now be facing the death penalty, even though Hawaii acted years ago to ban capital punishment.

An audit could save the state a substantial amount of money. Other states have been overcharged by CCA and/or billed for services they did not receive. For example, the Oklahoma Legislature requested a performance audit of its prisons and withheld nearly $600,000 from CCA because CCA was not complying with its contractual obligations.

The state of Idaho conducted an audit of CCA and, as of earlier this month, was withholding $2,600 every day (at least $47,000, at last report) for CCA's failure to meet its contractual obligations.

HB 415 will provide appropriate government transparency and accountability by having the auditor conduct the first-ever audit of this multimillion dollar, no-bid contract. Hawaii's taxpayers deserve no less.






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