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Kentucky: Editorial.
For-profit firms should not be able to provide services at a lower cost

Thursday, February 26, 2004
Privatization 02/26/04

While the new state prison being built in Elliott County is the only prison the Fletcher administration says it is considering for privatization, Corrections Commissioner John Rees said a private company could operate food services at all 12 adult prisons as early as this year.

The goal is to save enough money to raise the salaries of guards, which rank 49th in the country, Rees said. While higher pay for guards who put their lives on the line each day certainly is a worthy goal, Rees' proposal would replace dozens of prison food service jobs that offer benefits with lower-paying private industry jobs that will offer few, if any, benefits.

One wonders just how much money the state will be able to save by privatizing food services at the adult prisons. The state currently pays about $3.30 a day for each inmate's meals, including the cost of personnel and supplies. That strikes us as a low price for three meals a day.

Not surprisingly, Rees' proposal drew the immediate ire of prison workers and House Democrats.

"What kind of employees do you think you're going to get for close to minimum wage and no benefits?" asked Esther Jones, a food service worker at the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex in West Liberty.

A corporation trying to maximize its profit in prison kitchens might cut back on the nutrition and caloric content of inmate meals, said Rep. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, a member of the House budget subcommittee for the justice system.

Rees, a former vice president of Corrections Corporation of America, said no bids for food services would be sought unless it is concluded a private company can do the job as well, but cheaper.

We find it amazing that private, for-profit companies could serve meals to inmates at a lower cost than the state can. State government would have to be extremely inefficient not to be able to provide a service at a lower cost than a company that must earn a profit.

When a private company can provide a service cheaper than the state, it is time for the state to look for more ways to reduce costs.

http://www.dailyindependent.com



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