The state Correction Department officially
took back the reins of its two privatized prisons recently, marking the
end of a two-year experiment that some call a flop.
'I really felt like it was a failure,'
said Rep. Paul McCrary, D-Davidson. Private prison firms 'are in the business
to make money, and they're going to take some shortcuts when they can.'
His criticism mirrors concerns raised
in recent years by officials in other states with privatized prisons. But
the company that ran the two North Carolina prisons, Nashville, Tenn.-based
Corrections Corp. of America, said it did the best it could with a bad
'The bottom line is, [correctional
officers'] posts were manned. Health care was delivered. Inmates did not
suffer,' said Susan Hart, spokeswoman for the company.
At 12:01 a.m. Sunday, the Correction
Department officially resumed responsibility for running the Pamlico Correctional
Facility in coastal Bayboro, east of New Bern, and the Mountain View Correctional
Facility in Spruce Pine, near Boone.
For the 528 medium-custody inmates
at the two prisons, it's just another day behind bars. Most of the officers,
who have been wearing state uniforms for days, will become state employees.
CCA, the nation's largest private,
for-profit prison company, was slated to run the prisons until 2003, but
the prisons' troubles left both sides wanting to get out of the contract
The department said it has no plans
to let other companies operate North Carolina prisons. Instead, the state
will let companies finance and build prisons.
The state will lease the buildings
from private owners and run the prisons -- as it will now do at the Pamlico
and Mountain View facilities.
'At this point in time, we think
we are better equipped and have better resources to manage and operate
facilities,' said Tracy Little, spokesman for the agency.
Still, North Carolina isn't finished
experimenting. The state plans to put its first privately run juvenile
detention center in Brunswick County, but plans stalled after Texas-based
firm Cornell Abraxas asked for far more than legislators expected -- $119
million to build and operate it for 10 years.
Officials overseeing the project
for the state Department of Juvenile Justice say they are trying to avoid
the problems that cropped up at the Bayboro and Spruce Pine prisons.
'Obviously, there's a concern about
what's gone on with the private prisons,' said Ed Little, chief of purchasing
for the N.C. Division of Purchasing Contracts, 'but right now there's been
no decision on what they're going to do.'