A Lafayette state lawmaker is among several state officials deriding Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposal to sell three state prisons as a way to fill in the state’s budget gaps.

State Rep. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, tells The Associated Press that Jindal’s plan is just another one-time fix to a budget shortfall and will not solve budget problems that could spill over into next year.

“It seems to me like we’re selling prisons to cover a hole this year,” Cortez says, “but we haven’t addressed covering the hole next year.”

The sale of state prisons in Avoyelles, Winn and Allen parishes would generate more than $85 million, money Jindal and his aides say is crucial to paying Medicaid providers throughout the state.

Paul Rainwater, the governor’s budget adviser, says privatizing the prisons would also save the state money through operational costs, but lawmakers have spoken out against the plan and cite the potential for increased operational costs down the road.

The nonprofit Pelican Institute for Public Policy reports that 19 states, including Mississippi, have private prison systems. Studies, however, have shown that the goal of decreasing state prison costs has not been achieved:
A recent American Civil Liberties Union study found that from 1994 to 2007 the Mississippi Department of Corrections, which began outsourcing to private prison companies in 1995, increased its budget by 155 percent. Mississippi also has the second highest incarceration rate in the country, behind only the world leader in incarceration, Louisiana.
Others, including Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project at the Pew Center on the States, argue that the increase in prison costs for states does not stem from privatizing prisons or an increase in crime, but rather an increase in policy changes that send more “lawbreakers” to prison with longer sentences.

The arguments for and against privatizing prisons are moot, according to Jindal’s aides, who say the issue comes down to the state’s health care providers needing the additional money to make it through the fiscal year:
If lawmakers refuse to back the prison sales, that could lead to a reduction in what the state pays doctors, hospitals and nursing homes for taking care of Medicaid patients in the fiscal year that begins July 1, budget analysts told the House Appropriations Committee. Their rates would be cut by 2 percent without the money.
Read more on Jindal’s prison plan here and here.

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