Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Christie Donner on Private Prisons - In Idaho

Christie's even getting quoted in Idaho....It's a long article, but it's worth the read.

Profit or protection. Public or private. Where do you draw the line between public safety and private industry?

There's little to no distinction in the world of private prisons, a place where capitalism meets public service. It's an industry based on keeping people locked up, and doing it as efficiently as possible.

It's also an industry that generates lots of controversy. While some argue that privately owned and operated prisons allow government agencies to deal with increasingly overcrowded prison systems and dwindling budgets, others say that introducing the element of profit into the management of incarcerated people leads to corruption, mismanagement and mistreatment of prisoners.

"You shouldn't introduce a profit margin and a profit motive into a prison," said Christie Donner, executive director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition. "The industry as a whole shouldn't exist."

But it's an industry that may be expanding into Idaho if some state leaders get their way.

Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter has asked lawmakers to begin drafting legislation that would allow privately owned and operated prisons to go to work in Idaho.

There are currently no private facilities in the state, although the Idaho Correctional Center in Kuna is managed by the Correction Corporation of America of Tennessee. CCA is the largest private prison business in the country, ranking just behind the federal prison system. The company owns 41 prisons nationwide, and manages another 24 facilities in 19 states and Washington, D.C., for a combined total of roughly 75,000 beds.

To pave the way for their Idaho entry, a work group made up of lawmakers, Idaho Department of Corrections officials and industry representatives are in the early stages of drafting legislation that will be introduced in the next legislative session.

"[It would] set the stage for a private firm to come into the state of Idaho and create a facility that the firm would own and operate," said Brent Reinke, director of the Idaho Department of Corrections.

"Truly, Gov. Otter is very insistent in this area and has been very, very outspoken and there's no doubt at all the way he wants to proceed," Reinke said.

"We have a critical need right now to do something immediately to address the [prison] population crisis that we're seeing," said Jon Hanian, Otter's press secretary. "When you're talking about a private prison vs. a state-run one, building one, you're talking about up to four years on the state-run side vs. 18 to 24 months. The private side is going to be a more immediate impact."

Hanian said Otter's priority was to get prisoners now housed in out-of-state facilities back in the state. Until Idaho has more room, Hanian said, "our hands are tied on that."

Otter has vowed that any agreement reached with a private company would include stipulations that the state has a first right of refusal on any beds, and could bump any out-of-state inmates if the space is needed.

It's not so cut and dried for opponents of the industry, though.

"The bottom line for the private prison industry is to make a profit," said Ken Kopczynski, executive director of the Private Corrections Institute, a Florida-based group that opposes the private prison industry. "They give you a snow job about rules and training. They have to provide a profit, and they actually turn quite a profit for quite a few years.

"They do a very good P.R. job," he said.

A key part of that public relations campaign is to make inroads with politicians in states targeted by the industry as likely locations for expansion.

Opponents of private prisons are full of stories of corrupt officials and lobbyists serving as advisers for the state, including a college professor in Florida who served as a state adviser on the private prison industry while that industry funded his professional research. There's also Manny Aragon, former president of the New Mexico Senate, who was indicted by a jury in April for an alleged kickback scheme.

"There's going to be more of it when it's [in Idaho]," said Kopczynski. "They're not stupid. Most of these folks [private corrections company leaders] come out of government anyways."

The industry has already made its first foray into the wallets of Idaho politicians.

According to campaign finance reports filed with the state, both CCA and GEO Group, the two largest private prison operators, donated $5,000 to Otter's 2006 campaign for governor.

But Hanian said there is no impropriety in Otter's interest in private prisons.

"There is no quid pro quo when it comes to any campaign contribution the governor has received and the establishment of state policy. None," Hanian said. "He bases every decision solely on its merits."

Reinke said he doesn't feel there's any undue influence within the state government. "It's very important that we have the system in place so that it is competitive, and everything is done in the light of day. That's a challenge we're faced with," he said.

The Texas Connection

Idaho has already had experience with the industry.

Some 750 of Idaho's roughly 7,300 inmates are housed in private prisons in Texas and Oklahoma, and plans call for another 240 to be moved by the end of the year, according to Reinke. Another 500 are being housed in county facilities.

Boise Weekly

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