If Governor Keating is intent on using a private prison consultant with "an obvious conflict of interest" to conduct a study of Oklahoma's prison system, he should require him to sign an agreement stating that his company cannot benefit from his examination or anything that may result from it.
"The best way to conduct a study of our prison system would be with the help of an independent, unbiased consultant, but since Governor Keating wants to use his old friend in the private prison industry, there should be some restrictions to help prevent any abuse," said Senator Cal Hobson, who chairs the Senate subcommittee that helps write the state prison budget.
"If the Governor wants this study to even appear to be free of the present conflict of interest, he will require Mr. Quinlan to sign an agreement stipulating that his company cannot profit or benefit in any way from the study recommendations."
Governor Keating has requested that his old friend, J. Michael Quinlan of Corrections Corporation of America, conduct a study of the state prison system and recommend changes. CCA is the only private prison vendor currently operating in Oklahoma and the largest private prison company in the world.
Senator Hobson and others have objected to Keating's choice of consultants, noting Quinlan's obvious conflict of interest and the fact that his current employer could make a profit off of his recommendations.
"I still think using Mr. Quinlan is a bad idea, not just because there is an appearance of conflict of interest, but because there are very real concerns that a deeper, more substantive problem may be in the making," said Senator Hobson.
In a recent letter to corrections board members, the Lexington legislator said it would be difficult for Quinlan to act objectively in the study, saying "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."
Senator Hobson is quick to point out he doesn't question Quinlan's credentials or expertise, just his current business ties.
"I still feel that we could have found someone better, someone without a conflict of interest, to help us conduct an objective study of our prison system. No attempts were ever made to even solicit other consultant bids, and I think that taints this process somewhat," noted Senator Hobson.
At a news conference yesterday, Quinlan denied that his company would profit from the free services he was rendering to the state of Oklahoma.
"That's wonderful news to hear. I'm sure Mr. Quinlan and Governor Keating wouldn't mind putting that down in writing in the form of a formal agreement," said Senator Hobson.
"What better way to get this study off on the right foot than by pledging to Oklahomans in a written agreement that everything will conducted above board with no possible profit margin for CCA."