The Issues Involved in Contracting for Service

There are a number of issues and concerns that arise when discussing the privatization of corrections. Contracting issues in particular draw much attention.

One issue concerns the traditional role of the non-profit organization versus the inclination of some governments to silence critics and diminish advocacy. Voluntary sector organizations must be continually on guard against the possibility that external economic and political issues will determine their course of activity. There is a possibility of the muzzling of criticism often voiced by private agencies against the impact of government policy and practices on their clients’ lives. Critics question how the organization is to be involved in both contracting and client advocacy.

Agencies often put their assets at risk in signing contracts that can be cancelled by the government with as little as 60 days’ notice. There is no protection for the organization that uses its funds to set up programs and, for example, purchase property to house contracted programs. This puts the agency in a very vulnerable position. How can the agency’s assets be protected from “market” instability and funding cutbacks that may threaten their existence?

Accountability for failure is also an important issue for the voluntary sector. Taking into account the notion of shared responsibility, can the organization count on government to carry its share of accountability should a sensational incident occur in the program that the agency is contracted to provide? There is a risk that, in an effort to meet and demonstrate compliance with professional standards in contracts, the agency becomes overly focussed on record keeping and less focussed on its main purpose, meeting the needs of clients.

Where does the voluntary agency’s authority begin or end? What is the extent to which the government can determine how a contracted agency is governed and managed? There may be an inclination on the part of the government to impose more specific standards or requirements on agency boards. For example, can a government minister decide to intervene and dictate the manner in which the contracted agency board of directors performs certain processes such as hiring?

Finally, some people in the non-profit sector argue that there are some programs that should be seen as alternatives to the justice system and therefore should be delivered by community agencies rather than the government. However, in some cases, union pressure has restricted government from contracting out these specific kinds of programs as unions fear job losses for their members.