Privatization | News | Lansing State Journal guest editorial, February 26, 2012
By Barbara Levine, Executive Director, Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending
To reduce the $2 billion budget of the Department of Corrections, the Legislature is considering whether to allow prisons operated by private contractors. Michigan’s only private prison was the Michigan Youth Correctional Facility in Baldwin. It opened in 1998 but closed in 2005 because its costs were too high. GEO Corp., the owner of the Baldwin facility, has expanded it from 480 beds to roughly 2,400 — all apparently on speculation. GEO hoped to house prisoners from California, but that contract fell through.
Prison contractors say they can incarcerate people as effectively as government for substantially less money.
Opponents say that incarceration is a governmental function that should not be delegated to an industry responsible primarily to stockholders. They question whether private prisons actually save money, since contractors “cherry pick” the least expensive prisoners, leaving the state to pay for those with medical problems or mental illness and those at higher security levels. Opponents also question whether private prisons cut corners on security, safety, living conditions and programming.
House Bill 5174 would let the state contract with any private provider for the housing and management of Michigan inmates “if the contract will result in an annual cost savings of at least 10 percent.” The bill presents multiple issues.