Will wonders never cease. No sooner than the U.S. Justice Department decides to ease its way out of the private prison business, than the Democratic candidate for Attorney General forcefully advocates the same move for Vermont.
What’s more, he believes it will be simple. From an email blast received Saturday evening:
There is a lot we need to do for criminal justice reform, but most people would agree that we should stop shipping Vermonters to out-of-state, for-profit prisons.
… This is one obvious step I believe we can take in the first 100 days of the next legislative session in 2017.
The Justice Department wants to get out of the private prison business.
Its announcement follows last week’s release of am Inspector General’s report showing that for-profit prisons are failures by just about any metric.
… privately operated facilities incurred more safety and security incidents than those run by the federal Bureau of Prisons. The private facilities, for example, had higher rates of assaults — both by inmates on other inmates and by inmates on staff — and had eight times as many contraband cellphones confiscated each year on average, according to the report.
All that, in spite of the fact that the inmates housed at for-profit prisons were “mostly low security” types.
Cherry on the sundae: the prisons “do not save substantially on costs,” according to Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.
This ought to be another nail in the coffin of the privatization movement, which promises more efficiency and lower costs, but in fact deliver poor service, healthy profits for contractors, and employment security for their lobbyists and lawyers.
Before we get to the implications for Vermont, here’s your Moment of Schadenfreude: share prices in the two biggest private-prison companies collapsed on Wall Street, closing down by more than one-third.
Previously I brought you bitter tidings of a budget cut that would mean sending more Vermont inmates to for-profit, out-of-state prisons.
Well, my pessimism was premature. Today, Rep. Mary Hooper (D-Breezy Acres) introduced a plan to phase in the closure of the Southeast State Correctional Facility, and devote some of the projected savings to new re-entry programs designed to lower the inmate population. The plan appeared sound and convincing to the House Appropriations Committee. If it all works as planned, Vermont’s inmate census will be low enough when the prison closes, that no out-of-state transfers will be required. (Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito had estimated that 100 more inmates would have to be exported to the tender mercies of the Corrections Corporation of America.)
And bonus: the released inmates will be better prepared to make a successful re-entry into civilian life. That makes them less likely to re-offend.
Her proposal was accepted by the Appropriations Committee and folded into its budget plan. I don’t know all the details of Hooper’s proposal; I didn’t have a chance to speak with her today. But it’s good news. It turns a negative into a positive, and still allows the state to bank $1.7 million in savings from the prison closure.
More on today’s hot and heavy Appropriations action coming soon. Warning: not a lot of good news.