Here’s our weekly analysis of privatization in the news and in communities nationwide. Not a subscriber? Sign up here.
1) National: Christie Thompson and Taylor Elizabeth Eldridge of The Marshall Project report on the failure of the federal government to deal adequately with mental healthcare in its prisons. “As of February, the Bureau of Prisons classified just 3 percent of inmates as having a mental illness serious enough to require regular treatment. By comparison, more than 30 percent of those incarcerated in California state prisons receive care for a ‘serious mental disorder.’ In New York, 21 percent of inmates are on the mental-health caseload. Texas prisons provide treatment for roughly 20 percent. A review of court documents and inmates’ medical records, along with interviews of former prison psychologists, revealed that although the Bureau of Prisons changed its rules, officials did not add the resources needed to implement them, creating an incentive for employees to downgrade inmates to lower care levels.”
For more see Jailing People with Mental Illness by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. This is not, of course, just a federal issue, as more people are incarcerated in state and local lockups. And it is not just a government issue, as private, for-profit contractors are involved at every level of the criminal justice system. NAMI is a partner in The Stepping Up Initiative, a national campaign to challenge counties to reduce the number of people with mental illness in jails.
On Friday, AP reported that Correct Care Solutions paid $525,000 in a wrongful death lawsuit in Virginia (the jail paid $100,000). And Corizon just settled for $3.7 million for a case in Colorado: “Court documents say Corizon has so far paid $1 million but says it has a ‘cash flow’ problem and will need to pay the balance in installments by next February. Attorneys for the Tabor family wrote that they are ‘fearful that Corizon may be on the verge of bankruptcy given their inability to pay.”
2) National: @codepink takes on BlackRock and Larry Fink: “While @BlackRock prepares its Thanksgiving table, CEO #LarryFink continues to invest billions in migrant prison contractor General Dynamics. Tell him to stop feasting on the backs of the oppressed. Sign the petition: https://buff.ly/2zkyYOT #DivestFromWar.”
3) National: Lambda Legal and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) are suing the federal government, including the federal Bureau of Prisons (which has major contracts with the private, for-profit prison industry to operate some of its prisons) to compel the federal agencies to produce all documents and communications connected to Trump’s rollback of trans prisoner protections. Richard Saenz, Lambda Legal Senior Attorney and Criminal Justice and Police Misconduct Strategist, says “federal correctional facilities across the country have successfully housed transgender people consistent with their gender identity, as recommended by the manual before the administration’s rewrite. That is why we need transparency to see just who the administration consulted, and what misinformation and discriminatory intent possibly informed these changes.”
4) National: The Guardian has a report on the New Mexico federal lawsuit filed in Maryland claiming that CoreCivic and Geo Group are violating federal minimum wage laws by paying their inmates about $1-a-day, and are “violating laws that prohibit forced labor and unjust enrichment.” The companies claim the work is voluntary. Joseph Sellers, an attorney at Cohen Milstein who is representing the plaintiffs, told the Guardian “the fact that the company is able to obtain the labor it needs to function, for the facility to function, at vastly below market rates is part of its business model.”
5) National: Writing in The Hill, the former administrator of the USDA Economic Research Service says it would be a big mistake to disperse the USDA’s research service bit by bit just to move it out of Washington. The USDA has “asked for bids from states, cities, educational establishments, private entities, and other parties who might be interested in having all or parts of the two agencies located on their sites. Reportedly, 136 bids have been received.” Three of the potential new research facilities in California have been bid on by Newmark Knight Frank, a real estate company, according to USDA.
6) National/California: A community group in Bakersfield is simultaneously reaching in to help immigrant detainees at the GEO Group-run Mesa Verde ICE detention center and resisting the possible expansion of the facility. “‘This is something that should weigh heavy on the hearts of Bakersfield,’ [Bakersfield resident Eddie Laine] said. ‘You have 400 stories of sadness. People whose lives are being damaged by their time there. And the people who hope for a better life, those hopes are being snuffed out, largely.’ His friend from Guatemala was deported on Tuesday, after taking back his initial decision to give up seeking asylum. It was too late to rescind the paperwork, Laine said.” [For more see In the Public Interest’s report on how private prison corporations are primed to cash in on Trump’s immigration executive order.]
7) National: The Washington Post’s Laura Meckler chronicles education secretary Betsy DeVos’ crusade to revive the fortunes of for-profit colleges, which were reined in by the Obama administration. “Step by step, she has dismantled an Obama-era crackdown on the industry, and she plans to deliver a set of regulations next year that many expect to again boost the industry. Critics say these schools, which enroll 2.3 million students and range from small trade schools to large multistate enterprises such as the University of Phoenix, prey on vulnerable students, leaving them with huge debts and questionable credentials.” Antoinette Flores, who studies the issue at the Center for American Progress, says “it’s been very clear that DeVos is making decisions based on special interests that are not at all taking into consideration the best interests of students.”
8) California: Los Altos school district is struggling with the requirement that it find extra space for Bullis Charter School. “Almond parent Peipei Yu, who started a petition called ‘Save Egan and Our Los Altos Community’ that drew nearly 5,000 supporters, told board members at the Nov. 13 meeting that many people in the community were shocked to hear the request was asking for so much, even if it is part of the process. She suggested the best path forward is to bring both parties together and find some type of common ground, walking back some of the harsh language she used in the online petition.”
9) California: Yasha Levine, the intrepid investigative journalist and author (who’s written about the privatization of the internet), has begun a kickstarter drive to help fund his new film, Pistachio Wars, on how billionaires “control the state’s water and plunder it impunity.” It promises to “expose the stealth privatization of California’s water.” Pistachio Wars “tells a wild and important story—takes you from water privatization and farm worker exploitation to xenophobia, neocons and war with Iran.” See the trailer here.
10) California: Newly elected Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond says it’s time to put a pause on opening new charter schools. “It is a fact that the growth of charter schools in the state has had a direct impact on several districts in a financial way. And I think we have to reconcile that.”
11) California: It looks like the right wing “voting integrity” industry is getting involved in trying to cast doubt on the referendum results for Measure J, which delivered a solid result for a feasibility study on taking Monterey’s water system back into public control and away from California American Water. Mary Duan explains in Monterey County Now: “The letter asked readers to go to EIP-CA.com to register and fill out an incident report. ‘By telling us exactly what happened, you are helping Landmark Legal (Foundation) as they sue the state of California for corruption and criminal behavior in our election process,’ it states. Like I said, sounds like anarchy. Yet it tastes like sour grapes. EIP-CA stands for the Election Integrity Project, a self-described nonpartisan 501(c)(3) corporation dedicated to assuring that every legally cast vote is counted and reported. While the EIP may be nonpartisan, Landmark, from which it sprang, was founded by Mark Levin, author of the book Rediscovering Americanism: And the Tyranny of Progressivism. And on Landmark’s website is a link to an op-ed about voter fraud, written by Landmark’s staff attorney for The Daily Caller.”
For the story on how Monterey’s people organized a grassroots campaign and won, see Mary Grant’s A Hard-Fought Win for Public Water on California’s Monterey Peninsula. “Public Water Now, a local community-based organization, led the fight for public water, taking on a deep-pocketed corporate smear campaign.”
12) Florida: The Oakland Town Commission will kick in nearly a quarter of the cost of maintenance and replacements needed so the Oakland Avenue Charter School can expand.
13) Illinois: Calumet Park officials have privatized the village’s fire and ambulance services, “in a move the village attorney says could become the norm in Chicago’s south suburbs. (…) The village board approved a separation agreement this month with its firefighters union and a five-year contract with Kurtz Ambulance Service for fire protection and ambulance services. ‘It’s going to cause a chain reaction in the south suburbs with the communities that just can’t afford to pay the high salaries, the overtime and the equipment,’ said Village Attorney Burt Odelson, noting that he was in discussions with three other south suburban communities about outsourcing their fire departments.”
Last week, a major federal government report forecast that wildfires and climate-change-linked disruptions will spread across the country and into local communities such as Calumet Park. And Elias Grigoriadis, writing in The Link, has noted, “an increase in the privatization of emergency response infrastructure—like firefighters—has lead to the wealthy being far more ready and equipped to deal with these kind of crises.” (See below too on the implications of climate change for public services funding, at #23).
14) Indiana: The Indiana Charter School Board may close the Thurgood Marshall Leadership Academy by the end of the year. “A dispute with the school’s management company could be the last straw for a school that has performed dismally, said Jim Betley, executive director of the Indiana Charter School Board. ‘It’s never a good time to close a school but if we have concerns about the viability of a school we have to weigh the pros and cons of that,’ he said. ‘The circumstances don’t even look like they are there or will be there in the foreseeable future to show improvement.’ Turnover, academic failure, an enrollment drop and management concerns since the conditional renewal of the school’s charter in mid-2017 have Thurgood Marshall on tenuous ground.”
15) Maryland: The Department of Transportation is banging the pail so all the businesses interested in getting in on Gov. Hogan’s I-270 and I-495 ‘public private partnership’ boondoggle can come running. MDOT will be having its “industry forum” at BWI Airport on December 13. “Maryland Secretary of Transportation Pete K. Rahn will open the forum with welcoming remarks, while State Highway Administrator Greg Slater and P3 Program Director Lisa Choplin will give updates on the I-270 and I-495 P3 program, according to a release from the State Highway Administration. (…) Along with the industry forum, Maryland Department of Transportation officials will also hold one-on-one meetings with contractors and other businesses interested in participating in the P3 program. Those meetings will be held on Dec. 13 and 14.”
16) Massachusetts: Plans for charter school expansion in New Bedford are being described as “mind boggling.” Writing in CommonWealth, Lisa Guisbond of Citizens for Public Schools, says “Voters across Massachusetts resoundingly said ‘No!’ to lifting the cap on charter schools in 2016 when the issue was on the ballot; now proponents of these privately run, publicly funded ventures are trying other avenues to reach their goal, bypassing the will of the voters (and taxpayers). The request by Alma del Mar charter school in New Bedford to add 1,188 seats to its current enrollment of 450 is mind-boggling. Such an expansion is exactly what voters in New Bedford and nearly every other community statewide said they opposed.”
17) Massachusetts: The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is accepting public comments on the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School’s third expansion request until Dec. 3. The board has twice denied the school’s requests to expand. “Local school districts have repeatedly opposed the expansion requests, as has state senator-elect Jo Comerford. School officials have said the request would drain funds from local public schools.” [For more see In the Public Interest’s report on the cost of charter schools for public school districts].
18) Michigan: A charter school’s principal and assistant principal are being charged after a chair-throwing incident at Benton Harbor Charter School Academy. “Principal Timothy Harris, 48, and Assistant Principal Ashley Smith, 35, both of Benton Harbor, were charged with misdemeanor failure to report child abuse.”
19) New York: The federal government is getting involved in investigating New York American Water, the leading water privatization company. “The federal Government Accountability Office will investigate how New York American Water uses federal funds, as requested by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer in August. Specifically, investigators will look into federal funding that the senator contends NYAW and its parent company, American Water Co., are seeking from the Environmental Protection Agency. Baldwin is among the communities that NYAW services.”
20) Ohio: State auditor Dave Yost, who released a report last week, “says his office couldn’t determine whether errors in the [charter school] sponsor evaluations and grant application stemmed from ‘malicious intent’ or poor internal controls at Ohio’s Department of Education. Former charter schools chief David Hansen acknowledged data omissions and resigned in 2015. He has said he told then-superintendent Richard Ross about his plan. Ross denied knowing in advance. The Ohio Democratic Party and other charter school critics say further investigation is warranted.”
21) South Carolina: Paying for school resource officers has become a burden for public schools, prompting calls for more state money. “‘This wouldn’t be as big an issue if we had a bigger allocation from the state,’ [District Superintendent Randy Dozier] said. The ‘base student cost’ that districts receive from the state has failed to keep pace with inflation and changing standards. Dozier pointed out that the county school district spends about $1 million a year on school resource officers. If Gov. Henry McMaster is able to make good on a campaign promise to provide security in schools, that will free up funds that the district could use for the charter school, he said. ‘That could solve a lot of this,’ Dozier said.”
22) Tennessee: Shelby County Schools may close City University Boys Preparatory, a charter school, by the end of the academic year. “Based on a 5-point scale, with 5 representing excellence, the City University Boys Prep earned a 2.23 in 2017, a rating of ‘fair.’ The recommendation to deny renewal of the school’s charter was based on academics, according to the documents. In 2017, just 15.9 percent of the school’s students were proficient in English language arts. Just 10.1 percent were proficient in math. The school, which is sponsored by The Influence1 Foundation, also has just 87 students despite its original target of 350.”
23) International: The National Union of Public and General Employees (in Canada) has warned that “there is good reason to fear that the growing use of private firefighters and inmates could be seen as a way to avoid funding public services at the level required to respond to climate change.” Going further, NUPGE points out that “in addition to the loss of life and destruction of homes, more severe wildfires and other extreme weather caused by climate change mean more demands are placed on public services. The increased hours wildland firefighters are working is just the tip of the iceberg. Paramedics and hospital workers are helping pick up the pieces. Highway maintenance workers are having to do more to maintain roads. Those demands on public services push up the cost. There are 2 ways we can deal with that cost: we can ask that everyone pay their share through a fair tax system or we can have one level of service for the wealthy, and another for everyone else. If private firefighters or inmates replacing public sector workers becomes more common, we will be headed down the second path.”
24) International: Public Services International has produced a useful briefing, Conflict of Interest, on how corporations that profit from privatization are helping to write UN standards on ‘public-private partnerships.’ Among the companies discussed are John Laing, Serco, Ferrovial, Veolia, and the Big Four accounting companies (PwC, KPMG, Ernst & Young and Deloitte). “These same companies also profit from government advisory contracts on outsourcing—yet this advice has often found to be biased. A recent study by the Canadian Auditor General on PwC’s comparison between the public option and PPP option for a bridge infrastructure project found the company’s ‘analyses were of little use to decision makers because they contained many flaws favoring the P3 [PPP] model.’ The companies set to win PPP bids are often among the Big Four’s major clients. A report from the European Investment Bank estimates PPP transaction costs, which firms such as the Big Four profit from, “amount on average to well over 10 percent of the capital value of the project.” For more see PSI, Corporations lead UN promotion of controversial PPPs.
25) International: Canada’s NDP is denouncing the Ontario government for declaring that it will it will use a public-private design, build, finance, and maintenance P3 model to build the Waterford hospital replacement. NDP Leader Gerry Rogers “says EY was paid $1.7 million to evaluate the best financial model for building a P3 facility in Corner Brook. EY drew up comparison budgets and then recommended a P3 project. Government then gave the same firm the procurement contract for this new project. ‘Can he explain this very apparent conflict of interest?’ Rogers asked of the Premier. ‘Will he invite the Auditor General to review the P3 contracts now going forward and report to the House on her findings?’”
26) International/National: Here’s what real legislative oversight of government contract management looks like.
1) National: Trump is reportedly pushing Mitch McConnell hard to give floor time to and pass the stalled criminal justice reform bill, which has attracted bipartisan support and has the strong backing of the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles Grassley (IA). The Newsday editorial board says “Trump can make the difference. He has vacillated before, offering surprising support for immigration reform, for example, only to change his mind again. This time Trump needs to be unwavering, make criminal justice reform a priority, and push all parties to bring home this bill that would start to correct some grievous injustices. Let’s get this done, at last.” Progressive commentator Van Jones told CNN’s Don Lemon: “I say, the 99 times I don’t agree with the president I’m going to give him hell. But on this one, I’ll give him a salute and applause.”
But the bill has its critics, not least because of what Equal Justice Under Law calls its “potential to facilitate more privatization of prison programming and reentry services. The Act allows for the Attorney General to develop policies for the warden of each [Bureau of Prisons] facility to enter into partnerships with private organizations to provide training, employment, and other services. Privatizing in-prison programming, halfway houses or electronic monitoring raises concerns about a lack of governmental oversight that could lead to abuse, exploitation, and the potential appearance of a quid pro quo relationship between BOP and private companies. Funding even more contracts between for-profit actors and BOP facilities may detract from the primary goal of rehabilitation because private companies have a profit-seeking and profit-maximizing motive.”
Nick Pemberton also offers a tough critique of the deal as a boon to the private prison industry. “In my opinion, the mainstream media is burying the lead here. Some amount of relief on the back-end of sentences is only one portion of the bill.”
2) National: As rumors abound that the Trump administration and Congress may launch another effort to pass major infrastructure legislation, possibly on a bipartisan basis, Rachel Layne of Moneywatch reminds us that one of the country’s most pressing investment and public health needs is to deal with the high level of lead in America’s water systems. “So why are so many municipalities, homeowners and schools still finding lead in their systems today? One reason may be aging infrastructure and the cost to replace old water pipes and lead solder used in household plumbing. Drinking water is delivered via 1 million miles of pipes across the U.S., much of them laid in the early-to mid-20th century with a lifespan of 75 to 100 years, according to a 2017 reportfrom the American Society of Civil Engineers.” How any such federal legislation would be financed and funded, and what the best mix of private and public money should be, will be a major part of the haggling. [See In the Public Interest Executive Director Donald Cohen’s Is the Tragedy in Flint an Opening for Privatization?]
3) District of Columbia: The DC Public Restroom Initiative is “thrilled that the Committee on Transportation & Environment just voted 4 to 1 in favor of the public restroom bill. Following an 11/29 Committee on Health vote, the full DC Council will vote on Dec 4 &18. If U haven’t already pls. sign petition.”
4) Florida: A fight over education policy is brewing in the state capitol, pitting supporters of traditional public school against advocates of charters. “But the early indication is that the Senate has different ideas. Two supporters of traditional public schools moved into key Senate leadership positions last week. Sen David Simmons, R-Longwood, and Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, were named to leadership positions of their respective caucuses. The two have worked together as chair and vice-chair of education committees during their careers. Simmons, the new Senate Pro tem, described a contentious 2017 bill, HB 7069, as ‘antithetical to public education.’”