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Out-of-State Private Prisons “Expensive Quagmires”

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West Virginia is considering sending prisoners out of state to a private prison as a way to reduce overcrowding. But people who have studied other states that have followed that path say it's they've seen bad results. PHOTO by Grassroots Leadership.
West Virginia is considering sending prisoners out of state to a private prison as a way to reduce overcrowding. But people who have studied other states that have followed that path say it's they've seen bad results. PHOTO by Grassroots Leadership.
 By Dan HeymanContact
December 9, 2013

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - West Virginia is considering shipping inmates to an out-of-state private prison, as a temporary solution to overcrowding. However, analysts who have looked at other states say the approach is often problem-plagued and never temporary. The group Grassroots Leadership has studied the four states - California, Idaho, Vermont and Hawai'i - that ship out inmates.

Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, said what is sold as a cheap, short-term solution often turns into an expensive quagmire. For-profit prisons have a terrible record for medical care and staffing, he said, with poorly trained guards.

"They are very violent facilities with understaffing, scandals, lawsuits, mismanagement. The way that private prison corporations make a profit is they cut corners," Libal charged.

He suggested that it would make more sense for West Virginia to push on with prison reforms that are already reducing overcrowding.

In one prison, a woman inmate nearly died while giving birth without proper medical care, he said, and another facility earned the nickname "the gladiators' school" because guards were so overwhelmed by violence they quit trying to stop fights. However, Libal added, once a state signs a contract, the corporation will spend millions on lobbying and campaign donations to maintain the deal. He said the four current states thought they were getting a short-term fix, but now, seven to 18 years later, it's still in place.

"In every state that is currently shipping people out of state, that temporary solution has become a not-so-temporary Band-Aid," Libal warned.

The industry has said it offers a low-cost, high-quality alternative to in-state prisons - a good temporary option. Libal pointed out, however, that once inmates are out of state hands, it becomes easy for policymakers to ignore the roots of the problem. The for-profit prisons have no interest in reducing recidivism, he said, which he described as the best and cheapest long-term solution.

"We want the fewest number of people in prison as possible. We want low crime rates. Those things aren't good for companies that have built their billion-dollar industry on making sure that there are enough people to fill their beds," he explained.

More information is available at http://grassrootsleadership.org.

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