ALERT: Hearing on April 9th to Block Private Prisons in NH

Friends of restorative justice should plan to attend a Senate Finance Committee hearing April 9 on HB 443 to block private prisons in New Hampshire. Testimony starts at 1 p.m. in Room 103 on the first floor of the State House.

The bill enjoys strong support from faith groups, Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform, Families Now Involved, labor unions, the League of Women Voters, the Civil Liberties Union, the American Friends Service Committee, the Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance. New Hampshire Legal Assistance takes no formal position on the bill, but issued a well-researched warning last year on the dangers of private prisons. 

Forty families of prisoners packed a similar showdown in Senate Finance on the draft state budget in 2011, which would have shipped hundreds of inmates out of state to the lowest bidder. The concerns of these loved ones helped block the initiative. 

HB 443 passed by 197-136 in the Democratic House on mostly party lines, but the Republicans have a 13-11 majority in the Senate. 

State says no to for-profit prison bidders

The Departments of Corrections and Administrative Services turned down all the bids to privatize the prison system this Wednesday, saying none of the offers met the minimum requirements of the RFP (request for proposals). The Prison Watch group behind HB 443 quickly posted a press release about this long-awaited victory on its website. Below is the text.

Coalition Calls for Legislation to Ban For-Profit Prisons
Report on Prison Privatization Bids Released At Last

Concord, NH, April 3, 2013 ─ Following the state’s formal cancellation of considering proposals to privatize the construction and/or management of the state’s prisons, a coalition of organizations opposing prison privatization called for the state to ban privatizing NH corrections through a new law. HB 443 puts an effective end to the debate by prohibiting prison privatization altogether. The bill readily passed the NH House of Representatives and will next be considered by the state’s Senate. There is a public hearing scheduled with the Senate Finance Committee next Tuesday, April 9 at 1:00 p.m.

Earlier today, the state released a long awaited report from an out-of-state consultant who reviewed proposals for for-profit prison expansion and capacity that the state received last year. MGT America of Tallahassee, FL said that not one of the proposals met compliance with all of the necessary requirements to effectively, safely, and legally construct and/or manage the NH’s prisons. The company was paid to provide detailed evaluation of the design/build components of the proposals; evaluation of the operational components; and a financial analysis. MGT found that the private for-profit vendors planned to pay substandard wages that “may make it difficult to maintain a trained and experienced staff. This could result in high turnover and ultimately impact the safety and security of the correctional facilities.” It also found that the vendors’ proposed construction, lay-out, and overall specs did not comply with requirements in the request for proposals, including those that appear in consent decrees and court orders that regulate the state’s corrections department as well as to standards set forth by the American Correctional Association.

This is not the first time the idea of privatizing prisons has been raised in the state. Each time it has been considered, it has been determined that it is not the appropriate path for NH. “The state spent considerable resources on this,” said Arnie Alpert, NH Program Coordinator of American Friends Service Committee. The fee paid to MGT was $171,000. This outlay was in addition to staff time at the state’s Dept. of Corrections and Administrative Services throughout the request for proposals process. “Hopefully we will not be spending state dollars on considering this option anymore,” said Alpert. “This report takes privatization off the table. Now it’s time to close the door.”

After receiving the report, the state said “the immediate next step is the formal cancellation of the solicitation process.” This clears the way for the state to devote time and resources to identify and plan an alternative commonsense approach to restorative justice. “States like Texas and New York are reducing costs, prison populations, recidivism and crime rates at the same time,” said Chris Dornin, founder of Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform. “They focus on treatment, court diversion and community corrections, which are cheaper than incarceration.”

“We are so pleased the state can now focus on a publicly constructed and run women’s prison,” said Peg Fargo, VP of the NH League of Women Voters. “Build it tomorrow!” She added that the League is also hoping that HB 443 will pass “so we do not have to give for-profit prisons any more consideration. We know they are not less expensive. They are not safe for our communities. And, they are morally wrong. It’s time to move forward.”

NHPrisonWatch, the coalition of organizations opposed to prison privatization include the NH League of Women Voters, NH AFSC, Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform, the NH State Employees’ Association, the NH Civil Liberties Union, and the NH Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, among others.