In 2011, Gov. Bobby Jindal proposed the privatization of two prisons to join two others, initially wanting to plow the money paid for them into the operational budget. Eventually, his Administration decided to separate that out and build a budget only counting on savings from contracting. But before anything could happen past hearings on the matter, essentially he yanked the package over what appeared to be intractable opposition.
This year, Jindal is back with a somewhat different plan. This one relies only on the sale of one prison and closing of two others through consolidation, made possible by declining numbers of prisoners in the state, this perhaps caused by policy and administrative changes to place greater emphasis on probation and parole and on the use of technology in correctional facilities. Research, on the state’s two prisons privatized two decades ago, shows this privatization brought cost reductions without reductions in quality, which Jindal’s current budget counts on.
But like last year, special interests more interested in putting jobs before people and before correctional issues oppose this plan as well. Let’s start with a typical union lackey whose organization represents prison guards, who claims privatization will “sell taxpayers’ safety and security for a dollar” and “privatization is not the most cost-effective measure when it comes to prisons” – despite the fact that ample research across the country demonstrates neither of these assertions of his is the case.
Just to prove elected officials can be as ignorant as union hacks, Pineville Mayor Clarence Fields, whose city is near where the prison to be closed, made similar statements about how he is with this “concerned about the public safety issue. The quality of employees and security could decrease.” Again, not only are those sentiments contrary to much research, but if Fields seriously believed this – as opposed to being motivated by thinking closure might have Pineville take a small hit in jobs that could adversely affect his future election chances – why has he not raised these concerns about Louisiana’s other two privatized prisons, whose performances do not square with his conjecture?
Then we have a relative of an employee who might lose his job through the plan, or if rehired by a private operator may receive less pay, who moans about Jindal taking credit for “creating jobs one day and the [sic] brags about laying off 9,000 state employees the next. Those are jobs, too.” So, according to this sterling example of the populist persuasion, government’s purpose is to employ people, regardless of whether taxpayers are forced to pay more because the same function can be performed just as well, if not better, by the private sector. And therefore it’s the job of the taxpayer to subsidize this inefficiency so a handful of state employees have the privilege of a job, or higher pay than they might deserve it that job was properly priced in the market? Uh, no thank you to that selfishness.
And what exposition of this issue would be complete without throwing in a self-serving politician to boot? State Rep. Robert Johnson, in whose district is located the prison to be sold and thus may have the same career fears as Fields, says the timing of the committee hearing is suspicious, because scheduling constraints means guards won’t be able to come and personally “lobby” the panel.
This follows the playbook most recently and vehemently practiced by teachers unions, in cahoots with school district allies, with the age-old tactic of magnifying pressure on policy-makers by getting the small group in whom policy benefits are concentrated to take advantage of the asymmetrical power relations concerning the issue. That is, to use this one as an example, since large per recipient benefits (jobs) are concentrated in a small group (correctional workers), they have much more incentive to be mobilized and apply pressure to legislators than the small per payee costs (government spending of the people’s resources) for the large group of payees (citizens, especially taxpayers, in Louisiana) to counter the muscle of the beneficiaries.
The tactic enables the relatively few recipients of transfers of taxpayer resources to magnify potential electoral power relatively speaking to the large number of payees, whose votes in number far exceed theirs. Probably what irks Johnson out of all of this is his pressure strategy got aced by Jindal’s strategy (if that’s what drove the scheduling) to counter that, and with that element nullified, he knows in the free market of ideas presented on this issue that his side will lose the battle of ideas.
Last time out, the Jindal Administration got cold feet after opposition mobilized. With repackaging to eliminate some concerns, the prior year’s experience that ought to lead to greater ability to swat away the puerile objections of the opposition, and having a Legislature the early indications of which are its members collectively seem more interested than its previous incarnation in promoting efficient and effective governing over special interests, only failures in execution and in will on par with its performance last year should deny Jindal his way on this issue.
by Jeffrey Sadow, Ph.D.