Friday, December 3, 2010

More Out-Of-State Prisoners

The Plata/Coleman oral arguments included an exchange about the means by which the state purports to reduce prison population. Don Specter mentioned, in his arguments, the possibility of doing so not through mass releases, but through shipping inmates out of state. And, sure enough, the Chron recently reported that our inmate export business will be expanding in the near future.

The latest deal will ship 5,800 inmates to private prisons across state lines, bringing the total to more than 15,000. The transfers will begin in May under a contract that runs through June 2013 - nearly halfway through the term of Gov.-elect Jerry Brown.

. . .

Critics of moving prisoners to out-of-state facilities say it does little to relieve the underlying problems that have caused crowded conditions and questioned the timing of the new, no-bid contracts with two private companies. One of the companies houses nearly 10,000 California prisoners.

"This is the governor doing what he wants to in the last minutes of his administration," said state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco. "It is a way he can, on his watch, knock another 5,000 from the official numbers."

When California first signed contracts to ship prisoners over state lines four years ago, it began with 2,260 inmates at a cost of $51 million annually. Now, it is set to pay the companies $330 million a year to house 15,424 prisoners, and spend a total of $365 million once administrative costs are factored in.

If the outcome of Plata/Coleman will be further reliance on the privatization/export option, I fear the whole purpose of the exercise will be missed. The underlying issue of mass incarceration will remain unaddressed, private companies will have further incentive to support and fund measures like Arizona's notorious 1070 bill (now at the risk of being replicated in other states), and what's worse, the momentum gathered by the public's exposure to the costs involved will be lost as the problem recedes underground.

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