A month ago, Corrections Corporation of America publicly proclaimed its commitment to Hernando County, touted the strong daily performance of CCA's 170 professional staffers at the jail and positioned itself as the best alternative for local taxpayers footing the bill for the county's incarceration costs.
Now, CCA plans to terminate its county contract — negotiated in September — by exercising its 120-day out clause. The operation is not profitable, the company said, because it lost federal inmates to another facility. The uncertainty surrounding a long-term deal with Hernando, CCA said, made it difficult to negotiate for income-producing replacements.
There hasn't been a breakout attempt this devious since Clint Eastwood escaped from Alcatraz. Except the Hollywood version is better executed.
Don't be fooled. This is a ploy to try to get better terms from the county. CCA is a for-profit business with fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders, not the Hernando County taxpayers.
Only Commissioner Jeff Stabins inexplicably failed to see through the charade. His public rebuking of the county administration showed misplaced loyalties and a curiously quick attempt to assess internal blame. Stabins works for the public, not CCA. He should be striving to see that the public receives the best benefit possible for the best price possible, regardless if the vendor is CCA, another contractor, or the Hernando Sheriff's Office.
CCA asked out of the contract — just three weeks after trying to persuade commissioners it was the best alternative — because the company perceives a weakness in its competitor, the Hernando Sheriff's Office.
Sheriff Richard Nugent originally proposed a county takeover of the jail in March. It followed on the heels of the difficult 2009 budget season in which the county negotiated a new two-year agreement with CCA that included a reduced per-diem to the company. But Nugent withdrew his request April 13 after on-site inspections revealed a poorly designed jail in disrepair that could require a multimillion-dollar fix.
The repair responsibility remains and, so far, the county has identified several hundred thousand dollars available for the work, which includes rusting doors and hinges; cracked walls; leaking ceilings; a metal balcony rusting from condensation from showers underneath; inadequate drainage; and areas where electrical outlets and leaking water are side by side
That the facility could fall into such poor condition — even while passing accreditation inspections — shows greater oversight is needed both by the operator and by Hernando County. It makes sense then that it should be the same entity.
The county can solicit requests for proposals from companies interested in assuming the jail operations, but it shouldn't. Timing is problematic. But, more importantly, the county's best solution lies in-house with a constitutional officer answerable to the voters, not stockholders.