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Statehouse Beat: Only 1 bid to house inmates

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Last week's item on Corrections Corporation of America executives targeting West Virginia as a prime market for its services as a private prison operator proved prescient when CCA turned out to be the sole bidder Thursday for a possible state contract to house up to 400 West Virginia prison inmates in an out-of-state facility.

That the inmates would be incarcerated in the Lee Adjustment Center in eastern Kentucky, about a three-hour drive from Charleston, alleviates one of the key criticisms of private, out-of-state prisons -- that inmates are relocated long distances away from family, hometowns, and support mechanisms.

(As an example, the CCA prison is 136 miles, or a 2-hour, 44-minute drive from Logan, according to Google Maps. Logan to the Huttonsville Correctional Center is 212 miles, about 3 1/2 hours away.)

Also, advocates suggest it is better to transfer inmates to the private prison, where they can immediately begin on educational/vocational and counseling/treatment programs they must complete to become parole eligible, rather than to lose a year or more sitting in a regional jail awaiting transfer to a state prison.

However, David McMahon, arguably the state's only registered lobbyist representing poor people, sent along a news clipping showing that one reason the Lee Adjustment Center has space available for 400 West Virginia inmates is that the state of Kentucky opted not to renew its contracts with CCA, allowing the last of its three contracts to expire on June 30.

According to the article, Kentucky paid CCA a total of $21 million in fiscal 2010 to house inmates in three private prisons in the state, including the Lee Adjustment Center.

(Kentucky decided it no longer needed the services of private prisons after enacting a law in 2011 reducing prison time for low-risk, nonviolent offenders.)

Corrections won't open the second half of the bid package, the cost-sheet for the CCA contract, until late this month or early in January, and the cost of the CCA proposal could well be the deciding factor on whether the state goes forward on the private prison deal.

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An interesting aside is that 450 male inmates from Vermont are currently housed in the Lee Adjustment Center under a contract with CCA. Imagine the potential communications difficulties if 400 Southern West Virginians join them in the penitentiary.

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Meanwhile, following up on how the state Economic Development Authority had $20.35 million in losses on $24 million of investments in venture capital companies, the EDA provided a series of audited financial statements for the West Virginia Enterprise Capital Fund -- and it shows the investments went south in a hurry as the Great Recession hit.

Of the four venture capital companies that the EDA invested $4 million each in 2003, by June 30, 2007, the investment in Adena Ventures had a market value of $2.05 million; Anthem Capital, $939,843; Toucan Capital, $2.25 million; and Walker Ventures, $651,966.

By June 30, 2010, Adena was down to $1.185 million, Walker to $349,849, and the $4 million investments in Anthem and Toucan had zeroed out.

As of this June 30, only Adena had a book value, of $329,145, with Walker also zeroed out.

Under the 2002 law setting aside $25 million of state funds for venture capital investments, the state Board of Treasury Investments is required to charge 3 percent annual interest on the EDA loan, even though it is a non-recourse loan, meaning the EDA is not obligated to repay it.

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Regarding a recent news item about the Division of Highways having trouble hiring and retaining truck drivers and heavy equipment operators (particularly in areas where natural gas drilling is booming and private-sector wages are much higher), Pat Murphy notes that when he ran against Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, in 2010, one of his proposals was cross-training public employees to reduce personnel costs.

That included having Highways cross-train school bus drivers (who have commercial drivers' licenses) to drive trucks and snowplows for snow removal. (Given that school systems these days cancel school when there's an inch of snow forecast, the availability of bus drivers for snow removal would be a given.)

However, Murphy said Jackie Long and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association turned his proposal into a campaign attack, alleging that if he won the election, he would have school cooks and secretaries out on the roads shoveling snow.

(Murphy lost the May primary to Unger by a 4,073 to 1,784 margin, but spent just $702 on the campaign, making it very cost-effective per vote.)

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Finally, thanks to the efforts of Charleston station manager Matt Crouch and Chuck Riecks and the Friends of the Cardinal Passenger Rail Advocacy group, Charleston is no longer the only Amtrak station (out of 500-plus) in the U.S. without a station sign identifying the city.

A fairly large "Charleston, WV" sign was installed on the station platform just east of the South Side Bridge last week. Which, as noted previously, corrects an omission that dates back to the station's heyday as a stop for C&O passenger service.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.

 


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