NH House to hold hearing on prison privatization

Feb. 21 could be your last chance to tell lawmakers how you feel about the push by House and Senate leadership to ship hundreds of inmates out of state or otherwise privatize major functions of the Department of Corrections in-state to for-profit bidders. The House Finance Committee will hear testimony Tuesday, Feb. 21, at 11:10 a.m. in Room 210-211 of the Legislative Office Building on SB 376 to complete a plan to outsource prison services. That bill sailed through the Senate with little opposition. 

A similar bill last spring to privatize the care of 600 inmates out of state drew dozens of family members of inmates to protest the harm it would impose on prisoners and their loved ones. Lawmakers backed off that idea, but set up a  committee of two senators and three reps to develop a specific plan to outsource much of what the prisons do. That group met all fall and heard strong opposition from NH Legal Assistance, the American Friends Program, CCJR, the Civil Liberties Union and others. The five-person committee was unable to file its expected final report by Dec. 1 because nobody had replied yet to several requests for bids from prison companies. Absent those bids, the committee nevertheless advised privatizing the incarceration of 1,000 inmates. The bids are now due by Mar. 1 to build a women’s prison in New Hampshire, by Mar. 9 to build a men’s prison, and by Apr. 2 to build a prison for men and women housed in separate wings as a matter of safety. SB 376 extends the prison privatization study committee’s deadline to May 1 taking the bids into account. We have it on good authority the bids will remain secret until a contract is signed. That raises a right-to-know-law issue. Presumably the committee will see and act on material denied to the general public.

If the governor wishes, he can already contract under current law to privatize up to 600 inmate beds. Corrections Commissioner Bill Wrenn, who serves at the governor’s pleasure and can be fired at any time,  is on record opposing that option because it would cost the state a net loss of millions of dollars to send 600 of the best behaved inmates to the private sector. According to the commissioner, the state would keep the most challenging and expensive inmates, pay the private prison contractor, and pay most of the fixed costs associated with the current population of inmates. The governor has consistently asked to see all the options for keeping inmates in state.

Below is the text of the 2011 law that created the study committee. As you can see, it is clearly charged with privatizing prison services, so there’s a very real chance it could happen. I’ll be sending you more info about it, and that material will all post to the CCJR website atwww.ccjrnh.org. There’s a complex battle raging over prison privatization all over the country as states struggle to save tax dollars on their overcrowded prisons after decades of truth in sentencing, draconian consecutive sentencing, and pursuit of the burgeoning wars on drugs, sex offenders and illegal immigrants. 


224:346 Committee Established; Privatizing Department of Corrections.

I. There is established a committee to develop a plan for privatizing the department of corrections.

II. The members of the committee shall be as follows:

(a) Three members of the house of representatives, appointed by the speaker of the house of representatives.

(b) Two members of the senate, appointed by the president of the senate.

III. Members of the committee shall receive mileage at the legislative rate when attending to the duties of the committee.

IV. The committee shall develop a plan for privatizing the department of corrections and shall review the results of the request for proposals issued by the commissioner of administrative services under section 347 of this act.

V. The members of the study committee shall elect a chairperson from among the members. The first meeting of the committee shall be called by the first-named house member. The first meeting of the committee shall be held within 45 days of the effective date of this section. Four members of the committee shall constitute a quorum.

VI. The committee shall report its findings and any recommendations for proposed legislation to the speaker of the house of representatives, the president of the senate, the house clerk, the senate clerk, the governor, and the state library on or before December 1, 2011.

224:347 Request for Proposals. On or before September 1, 2011, the commissioner of administrative services shall issue a request for proposals by vendors for provision of correctional services or any other services provided by the department of corrections.

224:348 Department of Corrections; Transfer of Inmates from the State Correctional Facility in Concord.

I. Pursuant to the authority granted in RSA 21-H:8, VI-VII, the commissioner of the department of corrections may enter into one or more contracts, as may be necessary, with appropriate private and/or public correctional agencies or facilities and shall make proper and necessary arrangements with such agencies or facilities for the transfer and reception of not more than 600 inmates currently incarcerated at the state correctional facility in Concord.

II. The commissioner of the department of corrections may enter into one or more contracts to carry out pharmaceutical and nursing functions.

III. The department shall not close the North Country facility located in Berlin as a result of meeting the requirements of this section.

IV. If as a result of the transfer of inmates, the commissioner is able to reduce the department’s general fund appropriation, the commissioner shall expend any excess funds on the development and implementation of programs and services for the probation, parole, and sentencing of certain offenders required under 2010, 247 (SB 500-FN of the 2010 legislative session), as it may be amended, with the approval of the fiscal committee of the general court.