Saturday, August 21, 2010

Jail Critique A Fascinating Political Study

Demo candidate for County Judge points out deal's weak spots

Reading the three key issues of the Ralph Cooper campaign
against incumbent County Judge Jim Lewis is a fascinating
political study.

Take one burning issue - the building of the privately
operated Jack Harwell Detention Center with a $45 million
bond issue
- and apply the core elements of Dr. Ralph
Cooper's three-pronged leadership strategy.

*Professional management of human resources, including the
ability to work with opposing viewpoints;

*transparency about the use of tax money and clear public
communication about decision-making processes;

*fiscally responsible uses of government powers, including
the use of mechanisms to effect strategic economic
development in the best interests of citizens.

"Jim Lewis' unwillingness to listen, and heavy-handed
approach to matters of personnel got in the way of informed
decision-making," said Dr. Cooper, a Ph.D. in social
psychology, general civil practice attorney, and proven
systems analyst in the field of environmental impact.

Dr. Cooper pointed out that building the private jail
operated by Civigenics Division of Community Education
Centers was justified by a state citation for overcrowding
of the existing jail.

"However, the issue the State (Commission on Jail Standards)
identified was not a lack of space, but an insufficient
guard-to-prisoner ratio. This was the result of a refusal
to hire additional deputies."

Dr. Cooper alleges that jailers were "threatened with
administrative discipline and retribution and told that they
could not speak publicly to the matter before the
Commissioners' Court.

"His outmoded school of governing 'from one's gut' got in
the way of informed decision-making. He has repeatedly
demonstrated an inability to consider opposing views in a
professional manner."

Jailers spoke anyway, in order to get the matter on the
record after numerous news editorials gave negative opinions
about the notion of building the expensive new jail.

When it comes to transparency, the Democratic challenger is
very critical of the lack of information given about the
financial structure of the jail deal.

"While confidential communication is imperative for contract
negotiations...the persistent lack of transparency with the
public about ongoing operational costs, cost overrruns, and
a systemic inability to achieve maximum occupancy rates is
striking." Failure to communicate the truth about altered
arrangements in the structure of the deal "contributes to an
erosion of trust in the political system."

What's more, when it comes to savvy economic development,
"No one analyzed the downside of this decision."

According to Dr. Cooper, "The professional advisors ignored
evidence that the private jails market was being over-built
and that minimally trained and minimally paid staff carried
risks to host communities.

"The illusion of 'risk-free revenue generating public-
private partnerships' was allowed to substitute for hard

That most hard headed dictum of the Dutchman, that rock-
ribbed Republican President Ronald Reagan, was ignored in
the jail deal to build and operate the Jack Harwell
Dentention Center, said Dr. Cooper.

The motto: "Trust but verify."

It just didn't happen, Dr. Cooper concluded, resulting in "a
failure to understand both the long-term power granted to
him (Jim Lewis) and his fiduciary accountability to the
people granting him power."

Dr. Cooper has published figures on his website that prove
the Civigenics project, even if completely filled with
inmates, still loses money and causes negative cash flow at
the contract rate of $45.50 per inmate per day.

The same is true even if one factors in a renumeration as
high as $49 per inmate per diem.

Other communities have plunged into private jail contracts,
only to experience an inability to fill the jail and the subse-
quent bail out by the contractor.

One such is located in Hardin, Montana, a massive facility
which still stands totally empty while the debt service on the
bond issue made by the local economic development author-
ity continues to tick away the dollars.

1 comment:

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