Friday, June 03, 2005

Faith-Based Prison; Based on Faith Alone?

The debate on the proposed Faith- Based Prison continues to heat up. It is at least getting some public attention and discussion, if a bit late in the game. I was given a heads-up early on, before most people knew the idea was being kicked around, and we have been doing some digging into the principal actors since then. That research is far from complete, but one thing has become clear; Both sides of the issue are advancing their respective positions with a remarkable lack of actual facts.

If either city or county was considering hiring someone for a really important position, say cutting the grass for instance, there would be a request for information on work history and qualifications. Have you done this work before? Who employed you? May we contact them and ask for a work evaluation? Are you physically capable of the job you are applying for? What sort of work are you doing now? Questions such as these would be expected by any job applicant as stage one of the hiring process.

The prison as envisioned is a mere 624 bed, $27 million project, with three additional stages totalling over 2,000 inmates with attendant industries to employ most of them at profitable labor, so the supporters seem to think the process endured by our hypothetical grass-cutter is superfluous.

If this sounds absurd, well, it is. Corrections Concepts Inc. the non-profit coming to us with this uh, concept, has been promoting this idea in several different venues in Texas since 1985. Two of the most recent were in Waxahatchie and Coleman, both in 2003, each giving the idea consideration and due diligence over a period of several months. One turned it down, the other is wondering when they will get a call from CCI. I have talked to the people involved at both those sites, among others. As far as they recall, there has been exactly one other inquiry from Tom Green County and that by another private individual, not any elected official.

So far as I have been able to find, CCI has never yet built a single cell or housed and fed an inmate. Understand, this is not in itself a disqualification. Every journey starts somewhere with a single step.

My position, at this moment, is neither for or against. It is cautious, and I am curious why the power players who have signed on to the project have not exercised the "due diligence" I am trying to accomplish. This project will involve substantial expenditures of public money for utility infrastructure, law enforcement planning and land aquisition aside from the actual construction cost, which is to be raised by bond sales. I doubt any of the successful businessmen on the local steering committee would put seven figures of their money on a project until they had a pretty complete background on the potential contractor, but it seems this idea sounds so good they will cheerfully pass resolutions and make promises of public support without being so rude as to ask CCI the sort of questions we would want the lawnmower to answer.

I still have plenty of information coming down the pipeline, and I want to see it before forming an informed opinion. It takes an unofficial individual longer to perform the due diligence contacts government staff should have done, but I am working at it. As I am able to get solid facts and confirm same, I will be presenting them here. Check in and stay tuned, it's your money.

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