A long time ago, I realized that some things are just not meant for all of us to understand, so I don't even try to understand everything either in life in general or that comes before us as a legislative body.
One such thing was the bill from my friend Tim Robertson, D-Keene, to ban the state from using private prison facilities.
Of course, it wasn't just Tim's Bill. A full slate of Democrats (and even one Republican, Susan Emerson whom I like a great deal) had signed on as co-sponsors and the Criminal Justice room was packed with supporters, not to mention media types.
Both the Concord Monitor and the Union Leader ran major stories on the bill today.
As you may have gathered from the tenor of my questions, quoted by Annmarie Timmins in the Monitor story, I just don't understand the push at this time to stop privatization of prisons.
It's not as if there's a bill to move forward with privatization. The matter is still being studied. The cart, it seems to me, is being placed in front of the horse by moving to ban something we don't even know enough about right now. That seemed to be Department of Corrections Commissioner William Wrenn's opinion as well.
As a member of Finance Division I two years ago, I spend three complete (not altogether pleasant) days with Commissioner Wrenn looking into at his budget (I seem to recall it was in excess of $100 million). We cut back expenditures to the department as we did to most other departments.
If we demand cuts in what we spend on prisons at the same time we seem intent on incarcerating more and more people, we have no right to tie the hands of Commissioner Wrenn or anyone else who is placed in a position of administering this budget.
Represenative Robertson insists that privatization is a bad idea with no cost savings likely to result. He may or may not be right, but we certainly don't have enough information now to make such a blanket statement.
I was equally perplexed by the strong support of the bill from Devon Chaffee who has replaced Claire Ebel as executive director of the New Hampshire chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. She cited various examples in which privatization, she claimed seeming unbounded certainty, has not worked out.
I guess I was wrong in my long-standing belief that the ACLU was primarily interested in defending free speech and other inherent rights. I've always defended the organization even when many conservatives can't seem to say enough bad things about it. I never knew the ACLU had such a vested interest in prison reform.
As I sat through the hearing (I missed parts of it because my greyhound simulcast bill was being heard next door), I couldn't help get the feeling that this is more about organized labor trying to flex its less and less taut muscles than it is about properly incarcerating prisoners or saving our state money. After all, state prison personnel (corrections officers especially) are unionized with a package of benefits so great that, as we learned in finance last year, the benefit costs actually exceed the salary in certain cases--a fact almost too much to believe, but it's true!
I kid you not! Could it be that the proponents of this cart before the horse bill are really just carrying water for big labor realizing that private prison personnel might opt not to be unionized?
I'm just asking and am undoubtedly angering people on end end of the political spectrum.
The Queen Of Truth In Sentencing Resurfaces
Now, allow me to anger people on the other side. After all, I try to be an equal opportunity gadfly.
On another note, on another bill, we heard from the woman who is to a large degree responsible for the tenfold increase in our prison population in the last 30 years. During a year when Criminal Justice members have been inundated with anecdotal evidence (a story here and there about how a sad story led someone to file a bill as a remedy), we actually learned that the folly known as "truth in sentencing" came about 30 years ago as a result of one highly publicized case.
It's never wise to legislate based on one instance; it certainly wasn't when the self-acknowledged queen of truth in sentencing former Speaker Donna Sytek used the episode to force through legislation which has cost us tens if not hundreds of millions of unnecessary dollars. It's equally as unwise today when Ms. Sytek resurfaces to oppose all efforts at good time legislation, efforts which would save the state vital dollars and show compassion to individuals who have rehabilitated themselves.
Truth in blogging--it was in opposition to a bill I am sponsoring, but lest you think it's personal, it was a bill which was overwhelmingly supported by the Criminal Justice Committee--both parties--last year until another Salemite, the former and since disgraced majority leader D.J. Bettencourt, went berserk and opposed it on the House floor.