California wrestling with private prisons

A June ruling from the California Third District Court of Appeals will allow prisons to continue their reform process, Reason reports in its recent Annual Privatization Report 2008. With over 165,000 inmates overcrowding the state prison system, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered the state to start using private contractors to ship its prisoners to other states. So far, 3,900 inmates have been sent to prisons in Mississippi, Tennessee, Arizona and Oklahoma, reducing what is considered “an imminent and substantial threat to the public safety.” The issue before California’s courts was whether the transfers violate state provisions limiting the use of private contractors for state jobs. The California Correctional Peace Officers’ Association sued in 2006 to stop the transfers and won in a Sacramento County Superior Court. The officer’s union has announced it will appeal the Third District Court’s reversal of that decision to the state Supreme Court. Gov. Schwarzenegger’s office says that before they started moving prisoners over 15,000 inmates across 29 of the state’s 33 prisons were being housed in makeshift conditions that posed substantial safety risks. The appellate court justices agreed, finding that the prison overcrowding forced early releases, prisoner back-ups, greater potential for the transmission of infectious diseases and polluted groundwater with spills from overtaxed local sewage systems. More humane conditions for prisoners by utilizing transfers are at the core of the state’s prison reform project. For those remaining in state, inmates are more and more likely to find themselves in a privately run facility. As the state continues to utilize private prisons for its low-security inmates, Gov. Schwarzenegger has requested a $67 million increase in spending from the legislature for its contract with The GEO Group, Inc. The increase would help cover increasing food costs, health care and utilities, along with added funding for more inmate rehabilitation. Some state lawmakers say the pay increase is too much, especially in light of the state’s projected $8 billion budget deficit through 2009. However, the new total would still be substantially lower than the $118 per inmate per day rate the state pays to house prisoners in its own facilities. GEO’s rate is $60 per inmate per day. For more information about privatized corrections operations see the Public Safety section of APR 2008 and the Corrections and Prisons page on our website.