PRIVATE PRISON BEARS VERY CLOSE WATCHING
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Sent: Saturday, April 19, 2003 3:30 AM
Subject: Private prison bears very close watching
Opinion - April 19, 2003
Private prison bears very close watching
The Advertiser has long expressed reservations about private prisons, and our concerns are not eased by some troubling incidents in the history of the Louisiana company which operates the prison now housing some Alabama inmates.
Few Alabamians, we'd bet, envy Donal Campbell his job. Alabama's prison commissioner has a daunting task in dealing with massive overcrowding in the prison system and the concerns of both state and federal courts.
One way Campbell is addressing the overcrowding problem is by shipping some inmates to a privately operated prison in Louisiana. The Advertiser has long expressed reservations about private prisons, and our concerns are not eased by some troubling incidents in the history of the Louisiana company.
LCS Corrections Services Inc. operates six facilities in Louisiana and Texas. The Alabama inmates, all from Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, have been sent to the company's South Louisiana Correctional Center in Basile.
Idaho once sent some inmates there, but that state pulled them out after some serious problems were detected at the facility. There was a riot and escape in 1997 -- one inmate is still at large -- and there were concerns about management because the warden was only there two days a week. A top company executive was indicted by a federal grand jury in 1999 on civil rights charges. His trial ended in a hung jury.
When a state deprives an individual of liberty, no matter how deservedly, it also assumes a solemn obligation for that individual for the time of his or her sentence. Using a private prison may not be consistent with that obligation.
The Louisiana facility is being paid $24 per day per inmate, less than the $27 a day it costs in Alabama's prisons, which have the lowest per-inmate cost of any state prison system in the country. Even given the efficiencies of the private sector, Alabamians would do well to question whether prisoners can be decently and safely managed at such a rate, with the company still making a profit.
Campbell must keep a very close eye on this segment of his plans for addressing Alabama's prison problems.