Charles Thomas is before the Florida
Ethics Commission for conflict of interest issues relating to his being on
the Prison Realty Trust Board of Directors, a Florida government
committee that oversees private prisons, and doing research (in which his
affiliation is a University of Florida professor) showing private prisons
to be cheaper and have lower recidivism. According to a newspaper
account, the Florida Ethics Commission rejected as ''pitifully low" a settlement agreement that would have required
him "to pay a $2,000 fine for a conflict of interest that brought him millions of dollars in compensation and investment gains from private prisons companies that had funded his research."
They ultimately settled on a fine of $20,000.
Thomas appeared as a third author of a study showing low recidivism
rates from private prisons in Florida. Gilbert Geis and colleagues responded to this article in a 'case study' about Thomas and conflict of
interest. They reviewed the Florida charge and also noted that Thomas should have had fuller disclosure about his ties to private prisons. The
original authors have responded with a long & detailed article in the latest issue of
Crime & Delinquency.
original article by Lanza-Kaduce, Parker and Thomas (1999) identified all
authors as affiliated with the Center for Studies in Criminology and Law,
University of Florida. The research involved comparing recidivism rates from a
sample of 198 inmates released from two private prisons (one Wackenhut, one CCA)
matched to inmates released from seven public institutions. The ‘precision
matching’ included gender, classification level, a 53 category primary
conviction code, race, prior record, and age (1999, pp 32-33). They use multiple
indicators of recidivism, which they also combine into an index.
report the aggregate percentages as being 17% of inmates from private prison
recidivate, compared with 24% of the public facility inmates (Lanza-Kaduce et al
1999 p 36). Within the matched pairs, they test the statistical significance of
the difference in recidivism: “The lower recidivism among private releasees
was unlikely to have occurred by chance for rearrest (p<.01), resentencing
(p<.05), reincarceration (p<.10), or for any indication of recidivism
(p<.10). Only the difference regarding technical violations proved to be
statistically insignificant” (p 37). No justification is given for relaxing
the typical .05 test for significance, an absence especially curious in light of
their earlier caution: “All tests of statistical significance were conducted
on nonprobability samples and should be interpreted with caution” (p 35). The
authors also use the Wilcoxon (Gehan) statistic, using recidivism as the time to
failure and find “the survival functions of the two groups did not differ
significantly” (1999 p 39). Nevertheless, they conclude: “Only one
conclusion can be drawn from the results: Private prison releasees were more
successful than were their public prison matches” (p 42).
Geis et al case study reports on a variety of comments about Thomas observation
and additional concerns of theirs. The crux of the issue involves Thomas being
the director of the Private Corrections Project, which is housed within the
Center for Studies in Criminology. They argue he should disclose that the
project is primarily industry funded (to the tune of $400,000) by private prison
companies and that he receives a $25,000 summer stipend. Thomas became a member
of the Board of trustees “of the CCA-offshoot Prison Realty Trust” from
which he receives $12,000 a year, plus $1,000 for each board meeting and $500
for each meeting of subcommittees (1999, p 374). The authors note that an
October 18, 1998 Securities and Exchange Commission Filing lists a $3 million
fee to Thomas for consulting (p 380). In addition, Thomas owns 30,000 shares of
the Realty Trust, which at the time of discovery were worth $600,000 (p 377).
The company’s stock option plan has as its avowed purpose “to increase their
propriety interest in the company” (quoted in Geis et al 1999, p 375).
References for the articles are:
Lanza-Kaduce, Lonn, Karen Parker and Charles Thomas. 1999 "A Comparative
Recidivism Analysis of releases form Private and Public Prisons." Crime &
Delinquency, v 45: 28-47.
Geis, Gilbert, Alan Mobley and David Shichor. 1999. "Private Prisons,
Criminological research, and Conflict of interest: A Case Study" Crime &
Delinquency, v45: 372-388. [full
text available free]
Lanza-Kaduce, Lonn, Karen Parker and Charles Thomas. 2000. "The Devil
in the Details: The Case Study of Private Prisons, Criminological Research and Conflict of Interest"
Crime & Delinquency, v 46: 92-136.
articles from Academic Integrity and Sponsored Research