After the state of New Hampshire hired a consulting group last year to help evaluate bid proposals for the “construction, operation and potential privatization” of the state’s entire prison system, it was determined that all of the bids “had deficiencies from an operational standpoint,” according to a report issued by New Hampshire’s Department of Corrections (DOC) and Department of Administrative Services (DAS). The report further found that the proposals were “non-compliant with meeting the Department of Corrections’ legal obligations.”
By April 2012, New Hampshire officials had received bids from four companies to build and/or operate a facility to house male prisoners and a “hybrid” prison that would hold both male and female offenders. The bidders included Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), GEO Group, Management & Training Corp. (MTC) and the relatively unknown NH Hunt Justice Group LLC – a partnership between LaSalle Corrections, Hunt Companies and several other firms.
To evaluate the detailed and voluminous bid proposals, state officials organized three evaluation teams made up of staff from the DOC and DAS. Additionally, in July 2012 the state paid $171,000 to hire an “independent consultant” – MGT of America, Inc. – to assist with the review by evaluating the “operational and financial aspects of the vendors’ responses.”
Careful observers noted a glaring conflict of interest with respect to MGT: One of the MGT consultants evaluating the prison privatization bid proposals was George Vose, who previously served as Senior Vice President for Operations of Community Education Centers (CEC), a private prison firm that runs 17 jails and 34 halfway houses. Vose currently serves on CEC’s Board of Directors.
When contacted by Prison Legal News, Vose expressed surprise that people would be concerned about his past and present connections with the private prison industry when he had also spent many years working in state corrections agencies – including as director of the Massachusetts and Rhode Island DOCs. New Hampshire DOC Commissioner Bill Wrenn described Vose’s participation in the bid review process as “really neutral.”
While the state evaluation teams and MGT considered the bid proposals, an opposition campaign formed against prison privatization in New Hampshire, comprised of criminal justice reform advocates, faith-based groups, labor unions representing public-sector employees and others who objected to for-profit incarceration.
Caroline Isaacs with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in Arizona, who has extensive experience fighting the private prison industry, traveled to New Hampshire for a three-day speaking tour in September 2012 and spoke at public events in Concord, Keene, Lancaster, and Nashua.
On October 23, 2012, 36 national and New Hampshire-based organizations submitted a joint letter to the state’s five-member Executive Council, which would make the initial decision on the private prison bids, in opposition to prison privatization. Signatories to the letter included AFSCME, the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society, Grassroots Leadership, NAACP New England Area Conference, League of Women Voters of New Hampshire, International CURE, New Hampshire Council of Churches, Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform and the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC – PLN’s parent organization).
“Across the country each of the companies that have responded to New Hampshire’s Request for Proposals has been cited for serious mismanagement,” said Kymberlie Quong with Grassroots Leadership. “The poor training of prison staff, understaffing, and other standard violations have resulted in unsafe environments for the individuals working and living in [private] prisons, and the public at large.”
HRDC director and PLN editor Paul Wright spoke out against efforts to privatize New Hampshire’s prison system at a screening of the CNBC documentary “Billions Behind Bars” in Keene on November 26, 2012; he also participated in a similar panel discussion in Concord two days later.
Ultimately, both the state evaluation teams and MGT determined that the bids submitted by the four private prison companies fell short of the requirements specified in the state’s Request for Proposals (RFP). MGT found “significant issues with all the proposals.”
According to MGT’s report, released in March 2013, “It was determined that the private vendor’s [sic] proposed prices may be understated … [which] therefore made it impossible to conduct an accurate apples-to-apples cost comparison of state vs. private operation of correctional facilities.” Further, all of the proposals failed “to meet compliance requirements and feasibility standards.”
The DOC and DAS issued their evaluation of the bid proposals in April 2013, which stated, “In addition to finding that all of the vendors had some areas of non-compliance with the design/build requirements … all were non-compliant with meeting the Department of Corrections’ (DOC) legal obligations.” The report continued, “More specifically, the proposals exhibited a lack of understanding of the overarching legal requirements placed upon the DOC relating to the court orders, consent decrees and settlements which, in large part, dictate the administration and operation of their correctional facilities and attendant services to the inmate populations.”
Based on the findings of the state evaluation and the MGT report, New Hampshire officials decided to cancel the prison privatization RFP in April 2013.
Meanwhile, as the bid proposals were being reviewed, state lawmakers introduced a bill that would largely block prison privatization in New Hampshire. In January 2013, ten legislative sponsors introduced HB 443, which would prohibit prisoners from being housed in privately-operated facilities. The bill stated, “The [DOC] commissioner shall not enter into a contract with a private or for-profit entity for the custody of state or county inmates.”
HRDC associate director Alex Friedmann submitted a letter to the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on January 31, 2013, in support of HB 443, stating, “Given that cost savings through prison privatization are equivocal and subject to debate, that the goal of private prisons is to generate profit rather than ensure public safety, and that public safety may be placed at risk based on the past track records of private prison firms, there is no apparent need – or advantage to the state or taxpayers – to utilize private prisons in New Hampshire.”
In front of a packed room on February 7, 2013, the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee listened to testimony from more than a dozen people, most of whom supported HB 443. Pushback came from DOC Commissioner Bill Wrenn, who argued that a ban on private prisons might be problematic in case of “overpopulation” or “emergencies,” where prisoners would need to be sent to other facilities immediately.
Several weeks later the House passed HB 443. Taking Commissioner Wrenn’s concerns into account, the bill emerged with amended language that prohibited prisoners from being held in privately-operated facilities “except when the governor, upon recommendation of the commissioner of the department of corrections declares by executive order that a corrections emergency exists that requires the commissioner to enter into a temporary contract with a private or for-profit entity….”
On April 9, 2013, the New Hampshire Senate Finance Committee heard further testimony from individuals and organizations concerning HB 443. As at the House hearing, most speakers supported the bill. Groups such as the State Employees Association (SEA), New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, AFSC, League of Women Voters, Human Rights Defense Center and religious organizations spoke out against prison privatization.
HRDC staff member Mel Motel testified at both the House and Senate hearings, and HRDC was part of a coalition – coordinated by the New Hampshire SEIU, AFSC, Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform and other organizations – that opposed New Hampshire’s attempt to privatize its prison system.
Unfortunately, despite widespread support, HB 443 failed to pass in the Senate on a 13-11 vote on May 2, 2013.
Despite this legislative loss, opponents of the private prison industry were glad that the bid proposals had been canceled. Chris Dornin, the founder of Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform, stated, “We’re grateful to the for-profit warehousers of people for bringing together a strong coalition. Maybe it can bring about lasting reforms. Maybe it will keep things from getting worse as fast as they would without pockets of resistance.”
“Over the past year, we built strong opposition among public sector workers, unions, civic groups, faith communities, elected officials, editorial writers and the families of prisoners,” added Arnie Alpert with the American Friends Service Committee. “For the near future, that will make it impossible for [prison] privatization proposals to get any traction. For the longer term, even though this year’s attempt to block privatization legislatively fell short, we can return to the legislature for another try, perhaps in 2015.”
Sources: www.corrections.com; www.cecintl.com; www.concordmonitor.com; “Report on Review of Correctional Facility RFPs 1356-12, 1380-12 and 1387-12,” State of New Hampshire DOC and DAS (April 2013); “Final Report Correctional Facility RFP Evaluations,” MGT of America, Inc. (March 2013); phone or email conversations with Arnie Alpert, Chris Dornin and George Vose; www.mgtamer.com; https://www.afsc.org/
(First published by Prison Legal News and used here by permission).