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Private prison consultant hired

Firm to help state evaluate proposals

The Executive Council voted unanimously yesterday to pay a Florida company $171,350 to help state officials evaluate the eight proposals four companies have submitted to privatize the state's prisons.

Linda Hodgdon, commissioner of the state Department of Administrative Services, told councilors the contract with MGT of America Inc. does not commit the state to handing its prisons off to a private company. Instead, Hodgdon said, it will give policymakers more expertise when they decide whether to privatize.

'We have put in thousands and thousands of additional hours in staff time already (reviewing the bids),' Hodgdon said. 'I am actually comforted by another set of eyes coming in, a fresh set of eyes coming in, especially (a set) that has expertise in other states looking at this. I think you're going to get better information when you try to make your public policy decisions.'

Councilors Dan St. Hilaire of Concord and Ray Burton of Bath, both Republicans, voted for the contract but made clear they want a neutral, unbiased report for the money. St. Hilaire said he wanted reassurance that MGT of America does not have any 'preconceived' positions on whether the state should privatize.

Corrections Commissioner William Wrenn said he and Hodgdon share that expectation and have told MGT of America that. Wrenn said the MGT official that will be working with state officials has served as a corrections commissioner in Rhode Island and Massachusetts and has also worked for a private prison company.

Hodgdon and corrections officials solicited bids for privatizing prisons last year, at the direction of the Legislature and Gov. John Lynch. It has been billed as an information-gathering exercise to determine whether the state would save money if a private company took over corrections.

The private, for-profit prison companies had several options.

They could bid on a men's-only prison, a women's-only prison or a hybrid that combined male and female inmates. Within those categories, the companies also had to say whether they would build new prisons or renovate and add to existing ones. Additionally, the bidders could propose running the prisons themselves or leasing the buildings to the state so it could continue to manage the prison population.

Four companies responded: The GEO Group, Management & Training Corp., Corrections Corp. of America and NH Hunt Justice Group. All bid on the men's-only and hybrid options, but none bid on the women's-only prison. They also said they could either build and run the prison or just build it.

Details of where they would build new prisons remain sealed.

The companies' responses filled 60 boxes, Hodgdon said, and state employees have spent late nights and weekends reviewing the material while working their regular jobs. 'It wasn't long into process when it was very clear to us . . . that we were going to need some additional help,' Hodgdon said.

One team of state workers is reviewing the design proposals to ensure they meet the state's requirements. Another team is analyzing each company's operation plans to make sure they also meet state requirements, including treatment and accessibility standards that have been set by New Hampshire courts.

A third team is evaluating the projected costs of each bid against the other bids, but also against what the state would need to spend to make the men's prison in Concord and the women's prison in Goffstown safer and more efficient.

Wrenn and Hodgdon said they expect MGT to submit its report by early October and then be available to answer questions from public officials. The final report will be made public, Hodgdon said.

MGT of America was the only company to bid on the job, although several other companies were asked to. Hodgdon said she reached out to all those who did not submit bids to ask why. Two responded, she said. One said it needed more time than allowed, and the other said it did not want to participate in a bidding process where the job would be given to the lowest bidder.

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323 or atimmins@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)

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