D1A On Public-Private Partnerships In Oklahoma

August 10, 2020

LETTER: ‘Which is it?

August 8, 2020
Enid News & Eagle [Enid, Oklahoma]

A recent guest editorial run July 24 on the Enid News & Eagle website (Opinion, “Crisis is the wrong way to exit private prison game,” Tulsa World) offers seriously conflicting messages on public-private partnerships in state corrections. On one hand, it assails the entire concept of private sector prison contractors as “not appropriate” and blames them for the country’s mass incarceration problem.

At the same time, the editorial board describes these partnerships as necessary to prevent unsafe overcrowding in state prisons, which are today at 91% capacity.

Which is it?

The reality is you won’t get tied up in these mental knots if you stick to the facts.

First, contractor-operated correctional facilities have zero control over who goes to prison and for how long. Sentencing decisions are determined by Oklahoma judges, juries and by statutes passed by state lawmakers. Nationally, contractors house just 8% of incarcerated men and women. As criminal justice expert John Pfaff states, “It ultimately is the public sector, not the private, that is at the heart of mass incarceration.”

Second, for decades in Oklahoma, these public-private partnerships have provided flexibility to governments led by Democrats and Republicans to manage though their evolving needs and challenges. Contractors operate under the close scrutiny and oversight of state and local government agencies as well as independent auditors.

There are important criminal justice issues to address in Oklahoma today, but this critical discussion must be based on facts.

Alexandra Wilkes

Wilkes, of Washington, D.C., is an attorney and serves as spokesperson for the Day 1 Alliance, a trade association representing private sector contractors helping address corrections and detention challenges in the United States.


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