While the conditions at the GEO lockup were unsanitary, the sexual abuse cases at the core of this spring’s TYC scandal occurred almost entirely in government-operated facilities. Moreover, TYC spends $62,000 per year per youth on its own facilities, but its contract with GEO Group for this facility was $24,000 less. Of course, there’s no virtue in saving money if kids are being neglected, but the conditions could and should have been remedied for a cost far lower than that difference.I know Marc opposes neglect as strongly as any advocate, but this analysis is misleading. For starters, we've seen plenty of sexual abuse at private prisons in Texas, at both the youth and adult varieties. Coke County wasn't involved in the scandals this spring, but previously at that facility, according to Texas Prison Bidness:
- Several girls were sexually, physically, and mentally abused by Wackenhut employees, including a man with prior conviction for sexual abuse of a child; a lawsuit settled for $1.5 million (1999)
- 15-year old female victim of sexual assault by Wackenhut employee committed suicide in wake of lawsuit settlement that allowed company to avoid accepting responsibility (1999)
- TYC confirmed allegations that some staff members manipulated a “demotion/graduation” system to coerce girls into giving them sexual favors or dancing naked in front of them; some girls were raped or fondled, while others were made to disrobe and shower in the presence of male employees (1995)
I'm surprised Marc didn't reference the case right here in Travis County at the state jail previously run by Wackenhut (now the Geo Group), where according to Texas Prison Bidness, "11 former guards and a case manager [were] indicted on felony charges of sexual assault and improper sexual activity and misdemeanor charges of sexual harassment." TDCJ had to take the facility over in response in 1999 and now runs it themselves.
Marc says private prisons cost less but are required to produce "exactly the same product as TDCJ facilities." While the locks on the door may be the same, the services are not. The main reason private prisons costs are cheaper are 1) they underpay and undertrain their staff, 2) provide little programming, and 3) they tend to cherry pick less serious, shorter-term inmates who are easier and cheaper to manage. For example, TYC plans to privatize care for its youngest inmates, 10-13 year olds, who don't tend to cause the bulk of assaults on staff or other serious, problematic behavior.
Also, the amount paid to the vendor isn't the only cost. As demonstrated at Geo units in Coke and Dickens Counties, the state already spends a lot of money to oversee its private contracts, and probably needs to spend more. And of course when we're crunching cost-per-inmate statistics, every time the state contracts with private contractors to take care of lower cost inmates, the average per-inmate cost at state-run facilities rises because they're left with the inmates who have worse behavior and greater service needs. There's plenty of evidence Texas private prisons aren't performing critical services - especially regarding staffing, implementation of required programming and meeting serious mental health needs - at private prisons in Texas.
Marc asserts that expanding use of private prisons would be a "buffer against overly powerful prison guard unions." Huh?! In Texas? This is a Right to Work for Less state! His example comes from California, which is a whole 'nuther kettle of fish, but unions for both TDCJ guards and TYC staff are politically weak, not to mention recent legislation made TYC employees "at will," causing many dozens to be fired for little or no real cause. That's just not a credible statement describing Texas corrections politics.
I've praised Marc's work when I thought he deserved it, so I hope he won't mind this friendly dispute. Under certain circumstances, I'm not against the use of private contractors for specialized corrections services, but these arguments far overstate privatization's benefits and encourage lawmakers to see private prisons as a way to do things on the cheap.
UPDATE: An alert reader points me to this July 2003 study comparing publicly operated and private juvenile corrections facilities. From the abstract:
Relative to all other management types, for-profit management leads to a statistically significant increase in recidivism, but, relative to nonprofit and state-operated facilities, for-profit facilities operate at a lower cost to the government per comparable individual released. Cost-benefit analysis implies that the short-run savings offered by for-profit over nonprofit management are negated in the long run due to increased recidivism rates.RELATED:
- Texas Senate committee begins long march toward private prison oversight
- TYC will expand use of contract youth prisons after Coke County scandal
- Munoz: Jail Standards Commission regulates few private Texas prisons
- Idaho inmates in Texas prisons
- Rosy outlook for Geo Group, or will debts, scandal be its undoing?
- Meet the Geo Group: Texas' largest private prison contractor