Monday, February 11, 2013

The governor's food for political thought

Privately run prisons, as the New Yorker  recently described the TV series "Girls," has become a "trending topic".  That's because Gov. Kasich, determined not become privatized himself  when the voters head out to the polls in 2014, has found still another way  to downsize the government he manages with swagger each day.  He wants to turn over food services at  Ohio's prisons to the non-elected  entrepreneurial class  that swells with each new opportunity for its investments.  He says it will save the state maybe $16 million a year.

Like so many of  his "bold'"  initiatives, once the headlines fade into yesterday, you have to pay more attention to second opinions.  Privately run prison services   have a history of failure that equal the inmates they're supposed to contain.

Cost savings for taxpayers? As Paul Krugman has pointed out,  a study by the U.S. Department of Justice has concluded that such savings in other states "have simply not materialized.''

"So let's see," Krugman wrote, "Privatized prisons save money by employing fewer guards and other workers, and by paying them badly.  And then we get horror stories  about how these prisons are run.   What a surprise!"

Reviewing earlier  consequences, Plunderbund reported an audit by former Republican State Auditor Jim Petro  of privatized food service at the Noble Correctional Institution in Caldwell, Oh.    The audit showed Aramark, the company involved,   "failed multiple sanitary inspections and was unable to provide   acceptable portion sizes as agreed upon in the contract. What's more, Plunderbund said the audit revealed that "Aramark ended up billing the state for millions of meals it never actually served resulting in $2 million in overpayment being made to the company."

Never mind, the Kasich people contend,  we're looking at $16 million in savings even though a transfer to private hands would eliminate 456 state jobs.  Oh, it says here, the private operators would hire some of these people.

And now we come to the real bottom line.  Kasich, who has no use for unions, would eliminate that many jobs covered by Civil Service.  Christopher Mabe, president of the Ohio Civil Service  Employes Association, is already preparing for a brawl. "This is unfair, unsafe and hurts us all and we will not stand for it," he told the Columbus Dispatch.

From the standpoint of purely practical politics, after being drubbed in his fight against public employe  unions with Senate Bill 5, is Kasich really prepared to provoke labor again in an election year?


David Hess said...

Quite apart from the alleged and unrealized "savings" of privatized prisons and from Kasich's ongoing guerrilla war against unionized public employees, is the much larger issue of accountability. Who's accountable when private companies short-sheet the victuals at the prisons or cook the books in charging for meals not served? Shouldn't the political officeholders be held to account if complaints of mis- and malfeasance arise? Whom do the inmates themselves complain to? It's not coddling an imprisoned law-breaker by treating him or her with a standard of humaneness that a decent society should aspire to. One of the main criticisms of "private" prisons, in state after state, is that they resist inquiries about the way they run their stalags, as though they are exempt from public oversight.

Grumpy Abe said...

Accountability is not in season at the governor's office , either by the governor nor the editors that have already endorsed him for re-election.

Mencken said...

Very likely, prison food is approaching an irreducible minimum anyway. Save just giving prisoners bread and water, there's not much more they can cut out of the food budget. Many prisoners buy their food from the prison commissary rather than eat the "free" food. I'm guessing that's not a coincidence.