Tag Archives: Louisiana

School vouchers are not a proven strategy for improving student achievement

Source: Martin Carnoy, Economic Policy Institute, February 28, 2017
 
Betsy DeVos, the new U.S. secretary of education, is a strong proponent of allowing public education dollars to go to private schools through vouchers, which enable parents to use public school money to enroll their children in private schools, including religious ones. … This report seeks to inform that debate by summarizing the evidence base on vouchers. Studies of voucher programs in several U.S. cities, the states of Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, and in Chile and India, find limited improvements at best in student achievement and school district performance from even large-scale programs. In the few cases in which test scores increased, other factors, namely increased public accountability, not private school competition, seem to be more likely drivers. And high rates of attrition from private schools among voucher users in several studies raises concerns. The second largest and longest-standing U.S. voucher program, in Milwaukee, offers no solid evidence of student gains in either private or public schools. In the only area in which there is evidence of small improvements in voucher schools—in high school graduation and college enrollment rates—there are no data to show whether the gains are the result of schools shedding lower-performing students or engaging in positive practices. Also, high school graduation rates have risen sharply in public schools across the board in the last 10 years, with those increases much larger than the small effect estimated on graduation rates from attending a voucher school.

… The lack of evidence that vouchers significantly improve student achievement (test scores), coupled with the evidence of a modest, at best, impact on educational attainment (graduation rates), suggests that an ideological preference for education markets over equity and public accountability is what is driving the push to expand voucher programs. Ideology is not a compelling enough reason to switch to vouchers, given the risks. These risks include increased school segregation; the loss of a common, secular educational experience; and the possibility that the flow of inexperienced young teachers filling the lower-paying jobs in private schools will dry up once the security and benefits offered to more experienced teachers in public schools disappear. The report suggests that giving every parent and student a great “choice” of educational offerings is better accomplished by supporting and strengthening neighborhood public schools with a menu of proven policies, from early childhood education to after-school and summer programs to improved teacher pre-service training to improved student health and nutrition programs. …

Read full report.

The School-Voucher Paradox

Source: Hayley Glatter, The Atlantic, February 15, 2017

School choice aids and abets segregation—or so goes the logic of many of the policy’s loudest critics. But a study recently published in Education and Urban Society provides evidence to the contrary: A voucher program actually reduced racial stratification in the public schools that families decided to leave. The focus of the study, titled “The Impact of Targeted School Vouchers on Racial Stratification in Louisiana Schools,” is the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP), which provides state money for students to attend private schools. Researchers found that as families participated in the program, the student bodies of the public schools they opted out of began to more closely reflect the racial makeup of the school’s surrounding community. In other words, the public schools became more integrated. The findings stand apart from previous research conducted by groups like that National Education Policy Center that found many school-choice programs result in “an unsettling degree of segregation.” Patrick Wolf, one of the co-authors of the study and an education professor at the University of Arkansas, attributed the new findings to Louisiana’s demographic makeup and emphasized that the rollout and examination of school-choice programs should be “heavily context dependent.”

… Yes, the study “indicates that the vast majority (82 percent) of LSP transfers have reduced racial stratification in the voucher students’ former public schools.” The operative word in that analysis, though, is “former.” The families that used the voucher option to attend a private school facilitated integration in a public school their child would no longer attend. And, in fact, the study found that the students who used vouchers in Louisiana reduced racial stratification in the private schools they selected just 45 percent of the time: More often, Wolf said, “they actually increase the segregation in the private school … they push the student demographics of the private school further away from the ideal standards from the community.” … On top of that, early evidence on student achievement also points to negative outcomes for families that took advantage of the vouchers. …

Read full report.

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About The Louisiana Voucher Program, Where Failure Really Is An Option
Source: Mercedes Schneider, Huffington Post, July 25, 2016

Sure, on the whole, Louisiana’s voucher schools are flunkie, but in 2015, at a greater cost to the public than the public schools that they are trailing, voucher schools are, uh, less flunkie. Let’s look at some numbers derived from that 2016-17 voucher application data file. 7,807 students who met the qualification for income eligibility applied for vouchers in 2016-17, where income eligibility means that the household income cannot exceed 250 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. Of that 7,807, only 588 (7.5 percent) identified as attending a local-board-controlled public school the previous school year. So much for droves of students fleeing traditional public schools when given “choice.” …

Louisiana governor looks to curb school choice
Source: Amelia Hamilton, Louisiana Watchdog, March 15, 2016

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards is looking to curb both school vouchers and charter school growth in the state. On Monday, the Democrat proposed legislation that would narrow eligibility for participation in the voucher program and make it harder to launch charter schools.

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East Baton Rouge Parish Prison nurses speak out against Holden’s privatization plan

Source: Sam Karlin, Baton Rouge Business Report, November 9, 2016

A group of nurses is hoping the Metro Council will reject at today’s meeting a plan by Mayor Kip Holden to privatize management of East Baton Rouge Parish Prison’s medical services. They argue the plan would be costly and ineffective, and would put current nurses and technicians out of work or reduce their benefits. Holden is asking the council for authorization to sign a one-year, $5.2 million contract with CorrectHealth, a Georgia-based private health care company that manages medical care for 37 jails and prisons in the Southeastern U.S., including in seven Louisiana parishes. The nurses plan to attend today’s council meeting to make their case. … Of the city-parish’s 30 prison medical workers, nine have worked at the prison for a decade or more. The nurses say the deal will end up costing taxpayers. They also worry CorrectHealth will have the ability to fire them, and they say the benefits and retirement packages offered by the company are not as good as those provided by the city-parish. The nurses also cite reports of poor employee ratings for CorrectHealth, as well as reports that Southern Center for Human Rights—a nonprofit advocacy and criminal justice law firm that represents death penalty clients—challenged CorrectHealth’s importing of the lethal injection drug sodium thiopental. Holden’s administration, however, says contracting with CorrectHealth will actually save a little money. The city-parish is expected to pay $5.4 million this year for prison health care costs, which is $500,000 over budget. The administration also says privatization is needed because the city-parish is ill-equipped to manage health care at the prison, especially after one doctor quit in October. …

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Prison privatization might save Baton Rouge money, but is there a higher cost?
Source: Diana Samuels, Times-Picayune, January 31, 2015

A distinctly awkward silence filled the Baton Rouge Metro Council chambers earlier this month when council member Joel Boe asked how much the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison pays to house its inmates. It might have been the moment when Mayor Kip Holden’s public safety tax plan truly died. …. Several council members say that having an outside, private company build and operate the parish prison is something the city should at least look into, particularly in light of how much money it could save. But the privatization of prisons is controversial: While communities typically want to see fewer citizens imprisoned, the business model of a private prison relies on keeping people locked up. And in East Baton Rouge, where the sheriff has the ultimate say on how the prison is operated, it could be a tough political challenge for the city-parish and sheriff to make a change that drastic and relinquish control over the facility.

GAO to scrutinize financial solvency of DoD’s privatized housing programs

Source: Jared Serbu, Federal News Radio, October 24, 2016

The U.S. military’s program to privatize the living quarters on its bases — contentious and controversial at its inception 1996 — is now universally regarded as a great idea. Of on-base homes, 94 percent meet the Defense Department’s housing standards, compared to 22 percent when the government was in charge. But Congress and the Government Accountability Office are asking new questions about the long-term viability of the Military Privatized Housing Initiative (MHPI), particularly with regard to how it’s financed: Developers and investors were promised a steady income stream from each home they built, tied directly to military members’ basic allowances for housing (BAH) which are calculated to match leasing and utility rates in a given community. But Congress has since gone along with a DoD proposal which cuts those allowances by 5 percent, and occupancy rates are falling as the military shrinks in size. … Lepore said GAO will soon begin work on a new audit of each military service’s privatized housing projects, based on language the Senate suggested in its version of the 2017 Defense authorization bill. Although that bill has not yet passed, it tasks GAO to assess the financial solvency of each project because, in the Senate’s words, the BAH reductions “were implemented without an appropriate level of consideration on the impact such changes would have on the military housing privatization initiative.” … Until then, the Army is encouraging housing providers to offset any of their financial losses by cutting back on non-critical services — mowing lawns less frequently, for example — but Hammack said none of the Army’s housing providers have yet come forward with a case that the cuts are putting them in dire financial straits. Underutilized base housing is another concern. All of the military services are smaller than they were at the start of MHPI; the Army in particular is in the midst of a drawdown that will bring it to its lowest active duty level since midway through the last century. … The audit, which looked at several installations that had reached the bottom of the waterfall — Fort Detrick, Maryland; Naval Station Mayport, Florida and Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana — found installation officials had failed to conduct appropriate security checks: Of 128 tenants the IG sampled, only eight had been run through all of the proper databases and several were given installation passes for longer than their lease terms. …

A disturbing lawsuit claims private prison guards forced an inmate to perform oral sex

Source: Casey Tolan, Fusion, October 18, 2016

A former inmate of a Louisiana private prison is suing the company that runs the prison after two guards forced him to perform oral sex. Aaron Franklin, 27, says that he was abused by Derrick Deshotel and Tyler Strothers, two correctional officers at the Allen Correctional Center, a private prison in rural Kinder, LA, run by the GEO Group. An investigation by the prison substantiated his allegations, the state Department of Corrections said. … After the first incident, Franklin tried to forget it. But the next year, on July 19, 2015, Deshotel ordered Franklin into the prison’s hobby shop and told him he wanted sex again. … Franklin decided he had to report the abuse. After he did, he was briefly kept in solitary confinement before being transferred to a state prison, and was released last month. In all, Franklin served eight years for two armed robbery convictions. The guards were fired by GEO and criminally charged with malfeasance in office. They pled guilty and received only probation, Franklin’s lawyer said. (Local court officials said court records could not be immediately released.) The Allen Parish Prosecutor’s office, which handled the case against the two officers, did not respond to a request for comment. … Franklin’s lawsuit, which asks for $4 million in damages, accuses the officers of violating his rights and GEO of letting it happen. “My judge sentenced me to do time, but he didn’t sentence me to this,” Franklin said. “Being abused and mistreated, that wasn’t part of my sentence.” Lawyers for the two officers did not respond to requests for comment. In their motions in the case, however, they appear to imply—in an argument couched in legalese—that Franklin was asking for, or wanted to, have sex with them. …

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Former Allen Correctional Center inmate sues operators for alleged denial of medical care
Source: Hoang Tran, Louisiana Record, February 17, 2016

Ben Thompson filed a suit on Feb. 12 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, Lafayette Division against The Geo Group, for alleged breach of duties and violations of his rights. Thompson was formerly at the Allen Correctional Center, which is operated and owned by The Geo Group. … On or about Feb. 12, 2015, Thompson was acting as a peer-facilitator in a substance abuse class when a ceiling tile fell 12 feet and struck him on the middle of his neck on the posterior side, the suit states. Thompson claims to have immediately felt a shocking sensation and instantaneous pain but was allegedly given only ibuprofen. Thompson alleges that the pain did not subside on Feb. 15, 2015, but was again allegedly given only ibuprofen when he sought treatment. On March 11, 2015, Thompson allegedly was given a CT scan and on March 20, a doctor at Allen recommended that plaintiff be observed by a neuro or orthopedic surgeon for appropriate diagnosis. The defendant allegedly denied such recommendations.

How Charter Schools Bust Unions

Source: Hella Winston, Slate, September 29, 2016

Alliance educators began their push to unionize in large measure, Mernick says, because they were concerned their employer was not “actualizing its core values,” including the establishment of smaller classes and a personalized learning environment for its students, most of whom are poor and Latino or black. Mernick says that teachers who have signed on to the union effort want more input into decisions regarding curriculum and pedagogy. They’re also questioning how the school assesses their performance and discloses how it spends its funds. Making changes in these areas, Mernick believes, will help Alliance retain the kinds of qualified teachers it prides itself on hiring. … Attempts by charter school administrators to thwart teachers’ efforts to unionize are hardly unique to Alliance. While there are charters that have voluntarily agreed to recognize a teachers union at their school—or have even taken the lead in crafting collective bargaining agreements with employees—many others have refused to do so, fighting unionization at every turn. A 2014 study found that in 2012 about 7 percent of charter schools were unionized. (The same year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 68 percent of public school teachers were represented by unions.) And a survey of organizing efforts involving close to 50 schools across 10 states reveals that administrators engage in a wide variety of tactics to try to prevent that percentage from growing. These actions include harassment and outright intimidation of teachers by the administration; anti-union appeals to school parents and, in some cases, even students; the use of hired guns to try to influence teachers and others to oppose unionization; and the deployment of a variety of management strategies to stall the unionization process, leaving the teachers and schools in limbo. … While the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools maintains state and national data on charters, there is no comprehensive information about how many charters have unionized or attempted to do so. I surveyed nearly 50 schools where efforts to unionize had taken place. At almost all of them, teachers have alleged—at times in formal complaints to labor boards—being subjected by management to a variety of tactics to get them to reject unionization. This information came from press reports, official complaints, and interviews with teachers, staff, and union representatives. …

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When Charters Go Union
Source: Rachel M. Cohen, American Prospect, June 19, 2015

Most charter school funders hate unions and unions generally hate charters. But more and more charter teachers want to unionize, and labor is helping them do it. …. For teachers, unions, and charter school advocates, the moment is fraught with challenges. Traditional unions are grappling with how they can both organize charter teachers and still work politically to curb charter expansion. Charter school backers and funders are trying to figure out how to hold an anti-union line, while continuing to market charters as vehicles for social justice. Though 68 percent of K-12 public school teachers are unionized, just 7 percent of charter school teachers are, according to a 2012 study from the Center for Education Reform.

Editorial: ‘We are ready’ for the new New Orleans school system

Source: New Orleans Times-Picayune, September 7, 2016

It will take hard work to reunify New Orleans public schools by July 2018, but the Orleans Parish School Board took a major step last week. The board unanimously approved a transition plan Aug. 30 that lays out how charter schools from the state-operated Recovery School District will be blended into the city’s school system. The vote signifies the progress made in the 11 years since Hurricane Katrina and the levee breaches, when the Legislature took the vast majority of city schools away from the School Board to be run by the state. … Lawmakers approved the return of recovery schools to the OPSB earlier this summer. Senate Bill 432 safeguarded charter schools’ independence, forbidding the School Board from interfering in personnel, collective bargaining, contracts, curriculum and other matters. The legislation set up an advisory committee to come up with the transition plan. That group held multiple public meetings this summer to get New Orleanians to help refine the system’s guiding principles.

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Editorial: Hold onto reforms as New Orleans schools move back to School Board control
Source: New Orleans Times-Picayune, May 15, 2016

New Orleanians who have chafed at having most city schools under the control of the state will be able to go to their elected School Board members with concerns again. But the new unified system won’t look like the pre-Katrina version, which was controlled by a massive central bureaucracy. … Once Gov. John Bel Edwards signs the bill, the committee has to come up with a plan to transfer services now being handled by RSD to the School Board. They are vital issues: enrollment, expulsion, truancy, a program for students in psychological crisis. The transition plan is due by Sept. 1, which is a quick turnaround. But the group will continue to meet over the next two years until reunification is complete. … Transitions like this aren’t easy. The RSD had a rough start in the first few years after Katrina as it took responsibility for dozens of schools. But over time, the state figured out how to provide important support to schools. … The legislation provides a good framework for that. But it will be up to the School Board, Mr. Henderson and his staff and individual school leaders to follow through. New Orleanians must hold them to it — and must commit themselves, as they have in the 10 years since Katrina, to ensuring every child has an excellent school to attend. The transformation of education in New Orleans can’t happen without the hard work of all of us.

Governor John Bel Edwards signs bill bringing New Orleans public schools under local control
Source: Jessica Williams, The Advocate, May 12, 2016

Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law on Thursday a bill that will return public schools in New Orleans to local control, and officials named the members of a committee that will guide the transition as it plays out over the next few years. … The bill will start in motion a landmark transition for the city’s schools, most of which are now independent charter schools that fall under the state-run Recovery School District. Beginning in 2018, they will answer to the Orleans Parish School Board, the local body that lost control of a majority of city schools after Hurricane Katrina. …

New Orleans Plan: Charter Schools, With a Return to Local Control
Source: Kate Zernike, New York Times, May 9, 2016

Now comes another big moment in the New Orleans story: The governor is expected soon to sign legislation returning the city’s schools to the locally elected school board for the first time since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Strikingly, that return is being driven by someone squarely in the pro-charter camp, the state superintendent, John White. He is a veteran of touchstone organizations behind the efforts to remake public schools — Teach for America and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and its superintendent training program — as well as the hard-charging charter school efforts in New York City. … To Mr. White, the move to local control is not the retreat it may seem. He argues that it will make New Orleans a new model, radically redefining the role of central school boards just as many urban school districts are shifting increasingly large portions of their students to independently run but publicly funded charter schools. … This new model essentially splits the difference: The schools will keep the flexibility and autonomy, particularly over hiring and teaching, that have made charters most unlike traditional public schools. But the board becomes manager and regulator, making sure schools abide by policies meant to ensure equity and provide broad services, like managing the cost of particularly expensive special education students, that individual schools might not have the capacity or desire to do. …

Questions remain as New Orleans schools prepare to return to local control
Source: Andrew Vanacore, The Advocate, May 7, 2016

A bill now awaiting the signature of Gov. John Bel Edwards would unify the city’s school system under the Orleans Parish School Board by 2018, more than a decade after the state seized control of most New Orleans schools and began turning them over to charter groups, which are publicly funded but privately run. Right now, those schools answer to the state’s school board. By 2018 — or 2019, at the latest — oversight will fall to the OPSB. … In any case, the pairing of a locally elected board with scores of autonomous schools is something that hasn’t been attempted before on this scale. And the unification plan has generated a flurry of commentary from national education experts who have been watching New Orleans closely as a potential model for other struggling urban school systems. It is not just a question of whether OPSB members will try to impinge on how individual schools are run. The board will become the authorizer for all of the city’s charter schools, a role seen as critical in holding schools accountable for producing results and following the law. …

Bill Placing New Orleans Charter Schools Under Local Oversight Passes La. House
Source: Arianna Prothero, Education Week, May 6, 2016

A bill to return the majority of New Orleans’ charter schools to the oversight of the city’s elected school board has passed the Louisiana House of Representatives. Under the legislation, the schools will remain charters run by their own appointed boards, but the Orleans Parish School Board would have the authority to decide whether charter contracts are renewed or schools are shut down. … Today, Recovery School District oversees 52 charter schools while the Orleans Parish School Board oversees six district schools and 18 charters. The RSD would continue to run other charter schools in the state.  Both superintendents from the RSD and OPSB gave input on the bill, according to the Associated Press. A recent poll by Tulane University in New Orleans found that 38 percent of registered voters supported shifting oversight of the schools to the OPSB by 2018, 13 percent indicated the switch should happen even later, while 32 percent said they preferred the status quo. …

Returning New Orleans charter schools to local control a step closer to becoming reality
Source: Mark Ballard, The Advocate, April 27, 2016

… Despite their complaints, the House Education Committee voted 11-2 to advance legislation that would transfer control of 52 public schools — all charters — run by the state Recovery School District for the past decade to the Orleans Parish School Board by 2018, 2019 at the latest. Even with the move, charter schools would retain much of their autonomy. The legislation now heads to the full House. The state Senate already has approved the legislation without a single “no” vote. If endorsed by the House without any changes, the next step for Senate Bill 432 would be for the governor to sign it into law. …

Louisiana Senate Approves Bill to Return New Orleans’ Schools to Local Control
Source: Denisa R. Superville, Education Week, April 21, 2016 (Subscription Required)

A Louisiana Senate bill unanimously approved on Wednesday aims to return schools in the Recovery School District to the local school board by no later than 2019. The bill passed 36-0 and now has to be considered by the House of Representatives.   The measure came just a day after the Cowen Institute For Public Education Initiatives at Tulane University released its new poll of voter perceptions of public education in New Orleans  that showed 38 percent of respondents would like the schools under the Recovery School District to return to the Orleans Parish School Board by 2018. …

“HE WEIGHED 71 POUNDS. THAT WAS LIKE SOMEBODY STARVING.”

Source: Shane Bauer, Mother Jones, August 2, 2016

I met Damien Coestly on my first day on the job as a guard at Winn Correctional Center, a private Louisiana prison then run by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). I’d been sent to monitor the suicide watch cells in the segregation unit. … Prison records obtained from the Louisiana Department of Corrections by Anna Lellelid, the lawyer who currently represents his family, show that he went on suicide watch at least 17 times in the three and a half years before he died. … Mixed in with Coestly’s paperwork was a printout from CCA’s website on which he highlighted the phrase, “We constantly monitor the offender population for signs of declining mental health and suicide risk, working actively to assist a troubled offender in his or her time of need.” Yet mental health staffing at Winn was thin while I was there. It consisted of one part-time psychiatrist, one part-time psychologist, and one full-time social worker for more than 1,500 inmates. (CCA confirmed this, adding that “the staffing pattern for mental health professionals at Winn was approved by the Louisiana Department of Corrections.” However, DOC documents show that it had asked CCA to hire more mental health employees at Winn.) The prison’s single social worker told me that most Louisiana prisons had at least three full-time social workers. Her caseload, she said, included 450 inmates with mental health issues. …

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What you see when you go undercover at a private prison for 4 months
Source: German Lopez, Vox, July 13, 2016

When Shane Bauer packed his bags, he didn’t know what to expect. He wasn’t headed to a far-off country. He wasn’t going to a cabin or a beach. Bauer was off to work for the next four months at a private prison in Louisiana: the Winn Correctional Center in Winnfield. Bauer’s experience, documented in a long piece for Mother Jones this month, exposes a prison in disarray. The inmates are violent, with stabbings a regular occurrence. The guards are demoralized — too outnumbered, understaffed, and underpaid to create a genuinely safe environment. The facility regularly experiences all kinds of other issues, from failing to provide adequate medical care to inappropriate sexual relationships between guards and inmates. And the company that formerly owned the prison, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), offered little reassurance in answering the more than 150 questions Bauer sent them in a lengthy back and forth through email. It was a system so chaotic and broken that it began to creep into Bauer’s mind. The longer he spent in the prison, he said, the more he began to act and feel like a guard and less like a journalist. He felt more aggressive, finding himself overbearingly asserting his authority while at the prison and even hoping for a fight while shooting pool at the local bar. …

Louisiana’s Private Prisons Are Facing Deep Budget Cuts
Source: Becca Andrews, Mother Jones, July 6, 2016

In the face of deep budget cuts, Louisiana’s private prisons are going to have to scrape by with a lot less. A recently enacted $29.3 million reduction in the budget of the state Department of Corrections will mean much smaller payments to private prison companies, which will see their per inmate rates shrink from nearly $32 per day to around $25, close to what sheriffs are paid to house inmates in local jails. In comparison, Louisiana spends roughly $52 per inmate per day in its state-run institutions. The cash crunch in Louisiana’s private prisons isn’t new, as documented by Mother Jones reporter Shane Bauer, who spent four months working in a Louisiana prison run by the Corrections Corporation of America. During the time he was at Winn Correctional Center, CCA received $34 per inmate per day. But the cost per prisoner at Winn, in real dollars, had dropped nearly 20 percent between the late ’90s and 2014, according to the state budget office. …

Opinion: Louisiana’s private and parish prisons are little more than warehouses
Source: Robert Mann, New Orleans Times-Picayune, July 1, 2016

The concerns that you and I should have with this are many. First, it suggests that Louisiana Department of Corrections (DOC) officials were paying insufficient attention to Winn’s operation. That raises questions about procedures at dozens of parish prisons across Louisiana, where 75.5 percent of parish prison beds are occupied by state inmates (the highest percentage in the nation), all housed for less than $25 a day. “Lock and feed is what I call it,” DOC Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc candidly told a reporter recently. Spend 20 minutes reading any one of Bauer’s stories and tell me if you feel comfortable knowing that people convicted of violent acts were supervised in such a cavalier fashion. … That said, it’s important to remember that Louisiana didn’t privatize Winn because corporations and sheriffs run superior prisons. They did so only to save money.  If you run a private or a smaller parish prison, “corrections” may be a foreign concept. It’s often about little more that housing inmates for the lowest cost to generate the most revenue. …

My four months as a private prison guard
Source: Shane Bauer, Mother Jones, July/August 2016

I started applying for jobs in private prisons because I wanted to see the inner workings of an industry that holds 131,000 of the nation’s 1.6 million prisoners. As a journalist, it’s nearly impossible to get an unconstrained look inside our penal system. When prisons do let reporters in, it’s usually for carefully managed tours and monitored interviews with inmates. Private prisons are especially secretive. Their records often aren’t subject to public access laws; CCA has fought to defeat legislation that would make private prisons subject to the same disclosure rules as their public counterparts. And even if I could get uncensored information from private prison inmates, how would I verify their claims? I keep coming back to this question: Is there any other way to see what really happens inside a private prison? …

Why We Sent a Reporter to Work as a Private Prison Guard
Source: Clara Jeffrey, Mother Jones, July/August 2016

But while such investigations were commonplace in the muckraker era, they’ve grown increasingly rare. Why? First, there’s a real concern over ethics. When is it okay for reporters to not announce themselves as such? There’s no governing body of journalism, but a checklist written by Poynter ethicist Bob Steele provides guidelines for assessing when this kind of reporting is acceptable. … To see what private prisons are really like, Shane Bauer applied for a job with the Corrections Corporation of America. He used his own name and Social Security number, and he noted his employment with the Foundation for National Progress, the publisher of Mother Jones. He did not lie. He spent four months as a guard at a CCA-run Louisiana prison, and then we spent 14 more months reporting and fact-checking. We took these extraordinary steps because press access to prisons and jails has been vastly curtailed in recent decades, even as inmates have seen their ability to sue prisons—often the only way potential abuses would pop up on the radar of news organizations or advocates—dramatically reduced. There is no other way to know what truly happens inside but to go there. …

Shane Bauer Talks About His Four Months Working in a Private Prison
Source: Mother Jones, June 23, 2016

Mother Jones: How did you get the idea for this project?

Shane Bauer: The first time I thought about it was while talking to another reporter about writing about prisons. We were talking about Ted Conover’s Newjack, about his experience working as a guard at Sing Sing. I thought, “I should try that at a private prison.” There isn’t a lot of reporting on private prisons because they are not subject to the same public records laws as publicly run prisons and it’s pretty hard for journalists to get inside them. They’re a corner of the American prison system that we don’t know a lot about. …

MJ: How did Winn handle medical care and mental health care for prisoners?

SB: Prisoners regularly complained about medical care at Winn. I met a prisoner who had no legs and no fingers. He had lost them within the past year to gangrene. His medical records showed that he had made at least nine requests to see a doctor in that time. He would go to the infirmary and get sent back; the staff was suggesting that he was faking it. He said he showed the warden his feet, which were turning black and dripping with pus. But CCA had to pay to take a prisoner to the hospital, which costs a lot of money, especially when you consider it made $34 a day for each prisoner. …

Inside Shane Bauer’s Gripping Look at the Workings of a Private Prison
Source: Mother Jones, June 23, 2016

…Bauer’s article also includes profiles of guards and prisoners struggling to survive, “locked in battle like soldiers in a war they don’t believe in.” It also describes his reaction to the stress and risk of being a prison guard—a transformation that revealed the unsettling reality of one of America’s most difficult jobs. “More and more, I focus on proving I won’t back down,” he writes. “I am vigilant; I come to work ready for people to catcall me or run up on me and threaten to punch me in the face.” Shortly after Bauer left Winn in March 2015, CCA announced that it was backing out of its contract to run Winn Correctional Center. Documents later obtained by Mother Jones show that the state had asked CCA to make numerous immediate changes at the prison, including filling gaps in security, hiring more guards and medical staff, and addressing a “total lack of maintenance.” Another concern was a bonus paid to Winn’s warden that “causes neglect of basic needs.”…

The Corrections Corporation of America, by the Numbers
Source: Mother Jones, July/August 2016

The Corrections Corporation of America launched the era of private prisons in 1983, when it opened a immigration detention center in an former motel in Houston, Texas. Today the Nashville-based company houses more than 66,000 inmates, making it the country’s second-largest private prison company. In 2015, it reported $1.9 billion in revenue and made more than $221 million in net income—more than $3,300 for each prisoner in its care. …

CCA Documents
Source: Shane Bauer, Mother Jones, June 23, 2016

Here are legal documents and other records that provided valuable information for Shane Bauer’s investigation into the Corrections Corporation of America’s private prisons. …

What We Know About Violence in America’s Prisons
Source: Mother Jones, July/August 2016

Safety is an issue in all prisons, but accurate data on violence in prisons can be hard to come by. Here’s a look at what we know about physical and sexual assault in America’s prisons—and what was reported at the private prison in Louisiana where Shane Bauer worked. …

Bossier City approves public-private partnership for water system

Source: Sara Machi, Shreveport Times, June 21, 2016

More than 40 Bossier City workers will look for new jobs as city council members voted 4-2 Tuesday afternoon to outsource water and sewer services to Manchac Consulting Group and avoid customer rate increases. … Bossier City will pay a little over $1 million to transfer operational management to the private company, but Manchac says the city can then expect an estimated $2.1 million savings in the first contract year. Wallette said those figures don’t add up when you look at fixed costs like chemical and material prices. … Wallette sat with a handful of other water and sewer department employees as the votes were cast. There were heavy signs and disappointment as the talley came up against them. Wallette said he immediately texted another coworker to let him know they’d lost their jobs. …

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Bossier City Council approves outsourcing water, sewer department
Source: Victoria Shirley, KSLA, June 21, 2016

The Bossier City Council has approved to outsource the water and sewer division, cutting about 40 city employee jobs in the process. The issue passed in a 4-2 vote at the council meeting Tuesday afternoon. … In 2013, the council approved of a 41-percent sewer rate increase after a study by Manchac Consulting Group and Burns and McDonnell assured the council another hike wouldn’t be needed for another 10 years if they raised rates. But city leaders now say the enterprise fund is not paying for itself and voted for that same group, Manchac Consulting Group, to take over day-to-day operations. At the meeting, Jeffery Darby pointed out the initial study to raise sewer rates was wrong, causing them to be in this situation. … However in November of 2013, it was two consulting groups, Burns and McDonnell and Manchac Consulting, who presented the study and recommended rate increase to the city council at a Wastewater Financial Planning and Rate Design Public Workshop. … Calhoun is referring to campaign finance reports that reveal Mayor Lo Walker has received $3,500 in campaign donations plus a more than $2,000 fundraising dinner from Manchac Consulting Group and its CEO Justin Haydel. Councilman David Montgomery, Scott Irwin, and Larkin have also received campaign donations from Manchac or its CEO. …

Bossier City Council votes to outsource management of city dept., cut 40 jobs
Source: Victoria Shirley, KSLA, June 7, 2016

Dozens of Bossier City employees are on track to lose their jobs, 40 to be exact, now that the city council has taken a big step toward outsourcing their jobs. City workers packed the council meeting to protest the vote and the loss of jobs. Just 2 and a half years after a major sewer tax hike, city leaders insist they now need to make this change to save the city money. … During the meeting, several city workers told the council why they thought the public-private partnership with Manchac consulting was a bad idea. … In 2013, the council approved of a 41-percent sewer rate increase after a study by Manchac Consulting Group and Burns and McDonnell assured the council another hike wouldn’t be needed for another 10 years if they raised rates. But city leaders now say the enterprise fund is not paying for itself and voted for that same group Manchac Consulting Group to take over day-to-day operations. …

Public-private partnership in Bossier City threatens dozens of jobs
Source: Victoria Shirley, KSLA, June 6, 2016

Dozens of Bossier City employees could be fired if the city approves of public-private partnership to outsource the management of a city department.  According to City Spokesman Mark Natale, city leaders believe outsourcing the management and oversight of the water and sewer department to private company, Manchac Consulting, is in the best interest of tax payers. … According to Natale, 40 city positions would be cut if the public-private partnership is approved by the city council, but the agreement would save the city $3.5 million. … According to the Public-Private Partnership Agreement, Manchac Consulting Group would be paid a lump sum of $1,042,755 for the first year. $120,000 will be invoiced upon the execution of the agreement and $83,886.00 for the next 11 months.  The fee for the second year will be negotiated with the city 60 days prior to the end of the first year. The lump sum includes compensation for engineer’s services and services of engineer’s consultants, if any. According to the agreement, appropriate amounts have been incorporated in the lump sum to account for labor, overhead, profit, and reimbursable expenses. …

On negative effects of vouchers

Source: Mark Dynarski, Brookings Institute, May 26, 2016

Executive Summary:

Recent research on statewide voucher programs in Louisiana and Indiana has found that public school students that received vouchers to attend private schools subsequently scored lower on reading and math tests compared to similar students that remained in public schools. The magnitudes of the negative impacts were large. These studies used rigorous research designs that allow for strong causal conclusions. And they showed that the results were not explained by the particular tests that were used or the possibility that students receiving vouchers transferred out of above-average public schools. Another explanation is that our historical understanding of the superior performance of private schools is no longer accurate. Since the nineties, public schools have been under heavy pressure to improve test scores. Private schools were exempt from these accountability requirements. A recent study showed that public schools closed the score gap with private schools. That study did not look specifically at Louisiana and Indiana, but trends in scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress for public school students in those states are similar to national trends. In education as in medicine, ‘first, do no harm’ is a powerful guiding principle. A case to use taxpayer funds to send children of low-income parents to private schools is based on an expectation that the outcome will be positive. These recent findings point in the other direction. More needs to be known about long-term outcomes from these recently implemented voucher programs to make the case that they are a good investment of public funds. As well, we need to know if private schools would up their game in a scenario in which their performance with voucher students is reported publicly and subject to both regulatory and market accountability.