Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Employee Group Challenges Savings of Private Prisons

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Employee Group Challenges Savings of Private Prisons

Article excerpt

Using private prisons could end up costing the state up to $9 per day more than what it pays for state-run institutions, representatives of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association said Monday.

Gary Jones, executive director of the group, said OPEA will request the state Legislature approve construction of a 1,000 to 2,000 bed facility in the session that begins in February.

"If Oklahoma does not build a public prison soon, the private prison corporations will be dictating the terms of their contracts because we have no alternatives," he said. "We know Oklahoma can operate and own a state-of-the-art facility for $39 per inmate a day." Jerry Massey, spokesperson for the Department of Corrections, said a new facility could cost the state as much as $40 million. He said the cost of a prison could vary from $30,000 per cell to $50,000 per cell, depending on the type of construction. Jones said Oklahoma currently spends $42 per day for private facilities, compared with an average daily cost of state run prisons of $33. Massey said the cost of housing inmates in private prisons includes the cost of debt service for construction but figures DOC uses for the cost of housing prisoners in state-run facilities do not. "You kind of need to try to compare apples to apples. Part of that cost is to pay for debt service. If we just look at the existing facility you are not looking at debt service." Jones said if the state wants to use private facilities, it should limit such usage to no more than 15 percent of the system. "We believe anything more than that places the State of Oklahoma in a lose/lose situation." Jones said maintaining a 15/85 percent balance between private and state prisons will allow the state to make choices about placement of prisoners if private companies raise their prices too high. Massey said while a balance should be kept, there is not an industry standard. …

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