Columbiana County Commissioners were wise this week to grant a new contract to the private company operating the county jail.
County commissioners Wednesday agreed to a new two-year contract with Community Education Centers Inc., the parent company of CiviGenics, which has been operating the county jail since 1998. The contract contains options in 2011 and 2013 to renew the agreement for an additional two years, for a total possible contract of six years.
Unlike the past, when the county paid CiviGenics a flat daily fee for each inmate incarcerated at the jail, the new contract has four fee levels based on usage. The county will pay a daily inmate fee of $73 when the jail population is 120 inmates or fewer. The fee decreases to $58.19 when the inmate population at the 200-bed jail exceeds 160. CiviGenics is currently paid a single fee of $55.92.
The new tiered-usage plan was necessitated by the fact the daily inmate count has dropped from an average of 170 in 2008 to 146 last year, making it difficult for CiviGenics to turn a profit. The daily count has declined even further to 12.5 over the last four months.
The tiered contract should help CiviGenics turn a profit. And commissioners believe that even with the increased cost of the contract, it is still much cheaper to pay CiviGenics to operate the jail than it would be for the county to run the facility itself. Although it has been awhile since a cost analysis has been conducted on the jail contract, we still believe the privatized jail is cheaper, too. It only makes sense that it is more cost effective with a private company which has the ability to adjust staffing to reflect inmate census levels - something a public employer with a unionized work force would be unable to do immediately.
Granting a new jail operating contract to CiviGenics makes good fiscal sense in these uncertain economic times.