We believe that the recent article published by the Huffington Post, "Michigan Private Prisons Law Could Reopen Facility with Checkered Past," ignores the significant benefits of public-private partnerships and does not tell the whole story.
For instance, the article suggests that "Michigan's experience with privatization offers a case study of the challenges many states have faced in outsourcing public safety to for-profit corporations: Cost savings often don't materialize, and lower wages lead to high rates of turnover, which critics say compromises safety."
But states across the country have experienced the significant benefits of public-private partnerships which can deliver high quality correctional management services and programs at a significant savings to taxpayers. A comprehensive review of cost and quality studies by the Reason Public Policy Institute determined that virtually all studies found private prison costs to be lower, on average between 5 and 15 percent, and approximately 90 percent of studies found that private facilities perform as well or better than government-run facilities. (Reason Public Policy Institute Report on Private Prisons Costs and Benefits (January 2002).pdf Reason Public Policy Institute Report, January 2002)
Additionally, a 2009 survey of state correctional agencies by Avondale partners found that in those states that currently use the private sector, the average discount between public and private per diems is 28 percent and that the development costs in the private sector are approximately 15 percent below the public sector on a cost per bed analysis. (Avondale Partners Research Report, 2009)
Citing specific examples, the article goes on to state that "studies on Florida's private prisons have also shown minimal cost savings, despite state requirements that private facilities must produce savings of more than 7 percent."
The fact is that the State of Florida has had a successful experience with public-private partnerships in corrections since the mid-1990s. In a recent report to the Florida Legislature in early 2012, the Florida Department of Management Services (the state agency tasked with overseeing private prisons), certified that Florida's private prisons are achieving cost savings for taxpayers ranging from 10 to 27 percent. (Florida DMS Legislative Report, 2012)
We believe the article also presents an unfair portrayal of The GEO Group's extensive track record of high quality operations and industry leading practices. This unfair portrayal of The GEO Group's track record deserves a closer examination.
GEO has had long-standing and successful partnerships with the federal government and several states around the country dating back to its founding in 1984. GEO has been at the forefront of implementing industry leading practices in the development and management of correctional, detention and residential treatment facilities since the late 1980s.
GEO's accomplishments include the opening of the first Substance Abuse Treatment and Therapeutic Community facility; the implementation of a nationally recognized Prison Industry Enhancement Program in Lockhart, Texas; the opening of the first civil residential facility designed and operated for immigration detainees under the federal government's new detention standards; and the expansion of industry leading rehabilitation programs such as its 'Prison Entrepreneurship' program which provides offenders with entrepreneurial education and mentoring and its 'Paws in Prison' training program which pairs offenders with rescued dogs providing meaningful rehabilitation and treatment for both offenders and rescued dogs; among many other achievements.
In Michigan, GEO previously partnered with the state Department of Corrections and the Lake County community to develop and finance a state-of-the-art facility which operated in accordance with the state's contractual requirements and standards for a maximum security facility and was accredited by the American Correctional Association, the leading independent correctional accreditation entity in the United States. The facility provided high quality services and programs at a significant savings to Michigan's taxpayers. According to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the Michigan Department of Corrections estimated that the facility at 450 beds (its original size) saved between $2.5 million and $6.9 million annually. (Mackinac Center, 2003)
All correctional facilities in the world, public or private, face operational challenges inherent in the management of offender populations. How an organization addresses these challenges and improves the quality of care and service from them is critically important. And, that is why GEO has always conducted its operations with a commitment to providing high quality services and adhering to industry leading standards set by independent accreditation entities such as the American Correctional Association.
For close to three decades, public-private partnerships have achieved significant savings for taxpayers in states across the country while improving the quality of services and program outcomes in correctional, detention and residential treatment facilities.
Pablo E. Paez is Vice President of Corporate Relations with The GEO Group, Inc. He is based in Boca Raton, Florida.