Our Bradley County correspondent provides an update on plans to have a private prison operator build a “regional jail” for Bradley and Drew counties that is actually a device to partially privatize state prisons.

The Bradley County Quorum Court last week approved a deal with LaSalle Corrections of Ruston, La., to build a 600-bed jail for the two counties. That deal is on the agenda for the Drew County Quorum Court tonight.

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The agreement is expected to last for 20 years, but the counties by law can only obligate themselves a year at a time so the contract must be reapproved annually. LaSalle is supposedly going to finance construction. So you’d be right to gather that it is confident the state will deliver on the state Correction Board’s willingness to send the counties (and, in turn, LaSalle) 500 or so inmates every year at a rate that will save the state money over building and operating a new prison but also make money for LaSalle.

The counties didn’t have to seek bids for this facility. The state likely would have had to go through a procurement process. It was worked out between county judges and LaSalle, apparently. Few Quorum Court members seem fully informed, my correspondent says. Among the unknowns so far:

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  • Location of the jail.
  • Rates for holding prisoners.
  • Whether a bond issue will be sought for financing. And, if there is an industrial development bond issue (a jail WILL create jobs), what size property tax break might LaSalle get in property taxes if counties are the nominal owner during the financing period?

It is a shame this is happening without a move by the state to undertake long overdue justice system reform to reduce prison population, rather than incurring still more costs for an expanding population, even if the cost is lower with a private prison operator. Money is more of a motivator than rehabilitation in the private prison industry as Arkansas learned in an ugly fashion with previous experiments in privatization.

This is more government efficiency, Asa Hutchinson-style, at work. LaSalle’s lobbyist is Gilmore Strategy Group, headed by the governor’s former staffer and campaign fund-raiser and political adviser, Jon Gilmore. The Correction Board has said, despite a unanimous favorable vote, it has not formally entered an agreement with LaSalle on shipping state prisoners to a client of the governor’s campaign fund-raiser. I think you can predict technicalities will be cleared up quickly once the counties have done their part.

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