What do $30,600 in campaign donations to a New Jersey county executive get you? If you’re Community Education Centers, and the county executive is Essex county chair Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr., then the answer is evidently a contract worth 8-10 million dollars annually to run an immigration “detention center” (prison, for those who are less double-speak inclined). Two recent New York Times articles have shed light on a process by which Community Education Centers won a “public bid” to build the new jail in Essex, New Jersey, by beating out approximately ZERO other competitors.
Three weeks ago it was announced by Essex County, New Jersey that they were in search of a company to run a new immigrant detention center. The county ostensibly claimed that the process would be open to any potential bidders, and that the company with the best proposal would win. Such bidding for state and national contracts is common, as ideally companies will compete against one another to win the contract, thus ensuring a fair competition and a fair price through a fair process.
One thing this process in particular severely lacked, however, was fairness of any sort. It was clear from the outset that the bidding process was opened with only one company in mind: Community Education Centers. The rules stipulated by the county explicitly state that the detention center must have detainees greeted in a gymnasium, a particularly bizarrely specific requirement. Additionally, the available window for bid submissions was an astonishingly small 23 days, far less than multi-million dollar bidding processes are usually granted. Furthermore the process was only advertised by the county in two places, on its website and in the Newark Star Ledger. Perhaps it was unsurprising, then, that only one company was capable of making a bid within the strangely strict conditions set by the county: Community Education Centers.
Conveniently enough, Community Education Center happens to have a facility in the area that meet the exact specifications set forth by the county, including the gymnasium meeting room requirement: Delaney Hall. So confident was Community Education Centers that the contract would be theirs that they began advertising for jobs in the facility weeks before the bidding process was closed. When questioned about the process, Essex officials claim it was a fair and open to anyone. Yet federal officials conceded that they were already making plans to send detainees to the facility before the formal bidding process was concluded, unaware that there was even supposed to be even a consideration of any other facilities. This unopposed victory was also accomplished by Community Education despite a troubled history of immigrant detainment. The Delaney Hall facility last housed immigrant detainees in 2008, when it was penalized by the government and the program ended after a detainee escaped.
How did Community Education Centers get so lucky? To start, its executive board is staffed by prominent supporters of the county Executive, Mr. DiVincenzo, who is himself a staunch ally of Governor Chris Christie. Community Education Centers contributions to Mr. DiVincenzo have totaled $30,600 since 2006 alone. The company’s senior vice president, William J. Palatucci, was Gov. Christie’s former mentor and law partner, even recommending Christie to the Bush administration for the position of U.S. attorney for New Jersey, a role Christie held from 2002 to 2009.
The record of the public bidding process for government contracts is also one that has been riddled with corruption, particularly in the prisoner and detainee fields. Studies have shown that contracts to run prison telephone services have been won by companies offering the largest kickbacks to the state contracting agencies, with the average rate of payoff being 42% of gross revenues. I guess this is why the Essex County Jail’s plans to “upgrade” have been called the model upon which future jails will be built.
-By Pseudonym de Plume