Friday, March 17, 2006

Change of Habilitation

The Tom Green County Commissioners Court had a meeting today to hear about changes happening to Corrections Concepts, the company behind the prison project.

Two high profile players are no longer with the company. The founder of the company, Bill Robinson, resigned or was forced out. Jack Cowley, the former chief warden of Oklahoma has also disassociated himself from the company.

Bill Robinson has been the center of controversies surrounding this program since he started it over twenty years ago. He has been noted for his ability to alienate people, his lack of openness, inability to compromise, and his unwillingness to disclose much information. He did start the company, but the program in its current form is the work of many people. Add it all together and many people were turned off of CCI because of Mr. Robinson. His departure will probably help.

Jack Cowley is a different story. There are few people with more experience running a prison. He was also involved in the Inner Change faith based program here in Texas. His experience will be missed.

The new Chairman of the Board of CCI, Dr. Forrest Watson, gave a very interesting presentation to the court. He admitted that CCI had made many mistakes in the past. He agreed that the financials were not what they should be. He noted that the information on the project was incomplete. What he asked for was time to try and get the company and the project back on track. He asked for time, probably 2 months, to come back with an improved plan. He promised complete, easier to understand financials. He also promised that CCI would try to become the most open, transparent corporation in Texas.

There was a lot of discussion both for and against this project. Everyone agreed that the current prison and correction system isn't working. No one challenged the possible effectiveness of a faith based program (although the issue of constitutionality was raised.) The need for education and training, job skills, follow through after release, etc. were pointed out. We know if we just keep doing what we're doing, we'll keep getting what we're getting. There is no question something different needs to be done.

That leaves us with two questions. First can CCI really deliver a real solution? Is their business plan and management team going to be up to the challenge. A week ago, I doubt they could do it. The new direction is encouraging, but there is a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done. We will have to wait and see what they can do.

The second question is if this is the right place and time for this project. I'm not convinced. I don't believe that taking in another states prisoners is a good idea. The logistics just don't work. We need to concentrate on the problems in our neighborhoods first.

In the end, there are still a lot of questions to be answered. Maybe the reorganized CCI will finally give us these answers. Only time will tell.

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