OKLAHOMA CITY - Citing "an obvious conflict of interest," a Senate leader has formally asked the state corrections board to reject a prison consultant recommended by Governor Keating when it holds its regular monthly meeting tomorrow. Senator Cal Hobson officially raised his objection in a letter to each member of the seven-member prison panel today.
Governor Keating has said an old friend of his, J. Michael Quinlan of Corrections Corporation of America, will conduct a study of the state prison system at no charge. CCA is the only private prison vendor currently operating in Oklahoma and the largest private prison company in the world.
"I think it would be a monumental mistake to select someone with such an obvious conflict of interest. It's difficult to believe such a person could conduct a totally unbiased and objective study when his company stands to make money off of the recommendations," said Senator Hobson, who chairs the Senate subcommittee that writes the state prison budget.
"Furthermore, when someone offers their services for free, I think the reasonable, common sense question is: what are they getting in return? Those kinds of questions shouldn't detract from the importance of this study."
In his letter to corrections board members, the Lexington legislator asked that Quinlan be disqualified because of the conflict of interest created by his business ties.
"Asking a top official of CCA to make recommendations on the future of Oklahoma's prison system is somewhat like asking the president of General Motors to recommend whether the state should purchase more Ford or GM vehicles for its motor pool. Because CCA will profit greatly if Oklahoma ultimately uses more of its private prison space, it has a vested financial interest in the outcome of the prison study. This glaring conflict of interest and the fact that Mr. Quinlan is offering his services free of charge should send up warning flags impossible to ignore."
Senator Hobson is asking the corrections board to contact the American Correctional Association and ask for help in locating an independent expert with no conflicts of interest. ACA is an international, non-profit, non-partisan organization with expertise in federal, state and country prisons. It is also responsible for granting accreditation to prisons in the United States.
"There are a lot of qualified people who could do a reasoned, credible examination of our prison system without a whiff of a conflict of interest. It makes far more sense to choose one of them and get an objective study the first time around than to waste time on an examination that could be dismissed as biased.
"This isn't about Mr. Quinlan or his credentials. It's about the company he represents. CCA stands to profit off of any recommendations that come out of a prison study. That fact alone should disqualify him in the eyes of the corrections board and Governor Keating," concluded Senator Hobson.