Problems already have appeared elsewhere. In Houston, an undocumented alien suspected of trying to flee was shot and killed by guards. In Pennsylvania, a privately operated prison went bankrupt after a judge ordered it to return 55 out-of-state prisoners brought in to make a profit.
Underlying any such specific incidents--which private-prison proponents say are no worse than problems in some state-run prisons--is the fundamental issue: Should a government take its unique authority to imprison and punish and turn that power over to a private company with the primary goal of making money?
After weighing the matter, the American Bar Assn. last February advised the nation's legislators to withhold a decision on privatizing prisons "until the complex constitutional, statutory and contractual issues are satisfactorily developed and resolved."
The National Governors Assn. last year endorsed privately operated prisons, but its resolution cautioned: "States should approach this option with great care and forethought. The private sector must not be viewed as an easy means for dealing with the difficult problem of prison overcrowding."
Private operators like Dalby contend that the responsibility for prisoners is not being completely relinquished by the state.
"The security and custody responsibility isn't being taken from the state. We do not want to take it from the state," Dalby said. "Rather, it is being shared.
"They (state officials) will have uniformed correctional officer personnel . . . in the facility at all times, and the MTC staff will be thoroughly trained and will work directly under the guidance of the CDC (California Department of Corrections) uniformed officers that are there."
In any case, says corrections official Veit, the state may have little choice in the matter. Even as more parole violators are being returned to custody, there are fewer jail and prison cells available to house them. The state's decision to get tougher on parole violators by jailing parolees who break relatively minor rules coincided with a general tendency of the courts to impose longer and more frequent prison and jail sentences.
This has resulted in the often severe overcrowding of both county jails and state prisons, the two places where parole violators were sent in the past.
"County jails (in the past) had an excess of space," said Veit, and state parole violators, who came with a healthy state subsidy, were greeted by local officials as a way of cutting costs.
"County jails are now at 175% of capacity," Veit said, and local agencies are unable to take state prisoners at any price. "As they (county jails) grew more and more overcrowded, we had to consider other options. Privatization was one of them."