Colorado, Texas and others expand private corrections

Privatization efforts in the prison industry are moving forward steadily in the Western US, though not without some challenges and setbacks. Reason highlighted several states in our recent Annual Privatization Report 2008, including Colorado, Texas, and Oklahoma. Though mainstream private corrections got it’s start in the East–CCA in Tennessee and The GEO Group in Florida–the largest strides forward have been in Western states like Colorado and Arizona. In April, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter signed into law a bill that provides financial incentives for private prisons to develop innovative security programs and provide education. The legislation allows the state more flexibility in setting rates for prisoners in private facilities; previously there was no flexibility in negotiating adjustments to existing contracts. Given the state’s rising prison population, Colorado is increasingly turning to private prisons to provide beds for its inmates. Roughly 22% of the state’s prisoners are held in private facilities and that number could rise to 40% in the next few years, according to state Department of Corrections Executive Director Ari Zavaras. Oklahoma, already with six private prisons, is potentially planning a seventh in Warner. The proposed prison design came from a local Muskogee County architect in coordination with Detention Solutions Inc. out of Tulsa. Elsewhere in the state, CCA said it would complete the expansion of its 1,800 bed Cimarron Correctional Facility in Cushing by January 2009. Marc Levin, director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, believes Texas can decrease the number of repeat offenders by offering incentives to private prisons. In a June 2008 article, Levin said that the state should change its current contracts with private prisons, which house nearly 15,000 inmates. The current contracts outline all procedural matters for private facilities, making them carbon copies of state-run institutions. Instead, contracts could give private companies freedom to innovate in their corrections operations, offering bonuses based on reduced recidivism and increased inmate education growth. A contract system like this would be the first of its kind in the United States and allow greater growth for the industry. Private prisons have great incentive to rehabilitate their prisoners to help develop reputation. Allowing firms to explore more practically effective means make sense. To read more about these measures and see news on Idaho, Hawaii and other states, see the Public Safety section of APR 2008. For more information about privatized corrections operations in general visit the Corrections and Prisons page on our website.