Several times this year, New Hampshire’s state prison system has made headlines— most recently, with the resignation of Corrections Commissioner William Wrenn in late August. The Department of Corrections is in the midst of a staffing crisis, which will likely delay the opening of the new women’s prison in Concord. Some believe New Hampshire’s state penal system could be better managed by a private company.
History of private prison debate in NH
Privatizing Granite State prisons is not a new idea. In 2012, the Dept. of Corrections considered bids from private companies to build and manage several new facilities as a means of dealing with overcrowding. The winner of the contract would have also taken over existing state prisons. Eventually, the state cancelled consideration of the idea, finding that the proposals did not meet their standards for inmate care.
While the 2012 privatization attempt failed, so did a state law banning privatization of state prisons in 2013. This means the door is still open to privatizing NH prisons. Doing so would make New Hampshire the only other state in the area, besides Vermont, to have private incarceration.
Support for private prisons
Proponents of private prisons argue that, in general, private industry operates more efficiently and effectively than the public sector. Since New Hampshire’s current prison system has suffered from cost overruns and drastic understaffing, some believe that privatizing the prison system could help the Dept. of Corrections better manage its current facilities. Notably, President Trump decided to roll back the Obama-era plan to stop using private federal prisons— a boon to the stock prices of many corrections companies.
Private prison opponents
Opponents of prison privatization say it’s wrong to profit from incarceration. They feel that doing so creates a perverse incentive to keep inmates locked up longer and invite habitual relapse into crime. Recent studies, including a 2016 report by the Dept. of Justice, indicate more incidents of assault and insufficient medical care for inmates in private prisons. There are also more incidents of smuggled contraband and use of force by staff, according to the Inspector General.
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