For the last few years, the state of California has relied on out-of-state prisons to relieve overcrowding. According to a Prison Law Office report, as of December 2008, over 5,800 male California prisoners were housed in out-of-state facilities. The CDCR’s goal is to house a total of 8,000 prisoners in other states. There are currently five active out-of-state facilities, which are located in Arizona, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
Remember the failure of the attempt to reach an agreement about housing inmates in Michigan? Another attempt, to take over an empty Montana Jail with a 464-bed capacity, is not looking promising. A lawyer has quit and a company once listed as a subcontractor now denies involvement in the project. What is going on? AP writer Matthew Brown reports on the Chron:
Those moves followed revelations earlier in the week that Michael Hilton — the lead figure of the company, American Police Force — is a convicted felon with a history of fraud and failed business dealings in California.
"We met with him and he asked us if we can support him," said Edward Angelino, chief executive of Allied Defense Systems, an Irvine, Calif.-based defense contractor. "We checked his background, we checked his company. He's not an adequate person to do business with."
Much has been written about the merits and pitfalls of prison privatization. Many scholars raise serious concerns about the impact of privatization on the treatment of prisoners. As Oliver Hart, et al, argue in this piece on the Quarterly Journal of Economics, the risks of privatization include the contractor's strong incentive to reduce costs, ignoring the adverse effect on non-contractable quality. Judith Greene cites several examples of violence and cruelty, not to mention standards falling beneath constitutional minimums, in privatized prisons. The Heritage Foundation holds a more positive view of prison privatization. As Travis Pratt shows in this piece in The Prison Journal, it is fairly difficult to reach conclusive findings based on the studies conducted so far to compare confinement standards in public and private prisons. It seems that the Montana deal has the added complication of being an out-of-state facility. I suggest watching this very closely over the next few weeks; as the overcrowding relief plan approved by the legislature has not even come close to what is necessary to alleviate the financial problem, and as litigation of the Plata/Coleman decision proceeds, more information of this sort may come to public attention.