NH officials decide against private prison

Lynne Tuohy, Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- New Hampshire officials have decided against building a private prison to house state inmates after a consultant's report raised serious security concerns about the arrangement and questioned whether proposals from four private companies addressed the state's needs.

The state sought proposals, specifically for the construction and private operation of a men's prison, a women's prison and a "hybrid" prison that would house both men and women on the same campus. MGT of America, based in Tallahassee, Fla., was hired in July to evaluate the four proposals.

In a report released Wednesday, MGT said all of the proposals raise "significant issues" about compliance with the design, construction and operation requirements outlined by the state.

"It was determined that the private vendors' proposed prices may be understated, as those prices did not account for all the (stipulated) requirements," the report states. "This fact therefore made it impossible to conduct an accurate apples-to-apples cost comparison of state vs. private operation of correctional facilities."

The state also released its own report Wednesday — prepared jointly by the Department of Administrative Services and the Department of Corrections staff — that raised similar concerns.

"We were more focused on compliance with court orders that have been out there since the 1970s and have evolved through time," said Mike Connor, director of plant and property management for DAS. "We were concerned about whether staff would be adequate or have the skills necessary to meet those requirements."

A looming concern — and central to a lawsuit filed last year — is that female inmates don't have the same access to programs and facilities as male prisoners. None of the four proposals were for a women's prison, although they did include hybrid prisons.

In a related development Wednesday, the House approved spending $38 million to build a new women's prison. The Senate has yet to vote. The House also passed a bill that would ban the state from using private prisons under all but emergency circumstances.

The MGT report also raised concerns about the high staff turnover rate in private prisons, saying the lowest paid guards in the industry make half what an officer at the state prison in Concord does.

"High turnover rate ... can impact the skills and stability of the workforce and have a direct impact on the safety and security of the facility operations," the report states.

The four companies that submitted proposals were Corrections Corporation of America; the GEO Group; Management and Training Corporation; and The Hunt Group.

Arnie Alpert, New Hampshire program coordinate for the American Friends Service Committee, said the state's decision not to pursue a privately run prison was welcome news. He noted that the four companies are the giants of the private prison industry, "yet they did not explain how they would comply with various legal requirements the state is under."

The state paid MGT $171,000 to vet the 60 boxes of data that came with the proposals and to develop a financial model that showed current and future prison expenses.

MGT determined that the net cost in 2012 dollars of housing inmates — including staffing, overhead, maintenance, and food — is $36,435 per male inmate and $37,573 per female inmate. The consultants projected that over 20 years, the figures would increase by 68 percent for the men and 99 percent for the women.

"It's a great tool the state can use for 'what if' scenarios," Connor said.