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California City Ends Private Jail Operator’s Contract After Mass Employee Resignations

by Keith Sanders

On September 7, 2022, the city council in California’s Costa Mesa voted to hire 11 full-time jailers to keep the city lockup open. But at an estimated cost of $1.12 million, the city will have to cough up more than $175,000 over the price it was paying the jail’s former private operator, G4S Secure Solutions.

London-based G4S bills itself as the world’s largest security company, with $7.758 billion in 2019 revenue. It was acquired in 2021 by California-based Allied Universal, creating an $18 billion behemoth with 800,000 employees — over twice as many as GM and Ford combined.

The city terminated the firm’s contract on May 17, 2022, after a mass resignation of G4S employees who said they weren’t getting paid. That left only two trained jailers, resulting in a temporary closure — and nowhere to put some 400 people that city cops arrest each month.

The firm took over the jail in June 2013, promising to slash the city’s annual jail budget by over 45%. But the savings came mostly from the pockets of employees; then-Mayor Jim Righeimer admitted that G4S employees would make as little as $16.50 an hour, while city union workers were earning up to $32 per hour.

“The problem with government and government employees, as good as they are, is they are pricing themselves out of the picture,” Righeimer said.

Jail employees went to court to block the move. Their union settled that lawsuit with the city in 2015. Now with the vote to terminate the G4S contract, which was set to expire in June 2022, the union has been negotiating to re-staff the jail.

The city claims that G4S failed to deliver services and compromised security and public safety by failing to properly staff the jail. No other private company has been found to replace the firm. Meanwhile, the city has scrambled to staff the jail, recruiting temporary guards and even two park rangers with jail training.

“That’s a risk we took … and that risk has come home to roost,” Mayor John Stephens said.

The 32-bed facility is currently operating, according to the city police department. The city council also voted to negotiate for space in the Huntington Beach Jail, one of the largest in Orange County with 72 beds.

Cutting costs to incarcerate people by turning over its jail to a private operator has put Costa Mesa in a worse position, as many other American municipalities have found. Now, Police Chief Ron Lawrence told the council, it is not an issue of “a contract versus non-contract.”

“It’s more of an issue of do we have a jail, or do we not have a jail?” he added. 

Source: Los Angeles Times

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