A declining prison population should mean good news for taxpayers. But it can still result in heartache for local communities in need of jobs that had borrowed to build jails in anticipation of a law and order boom.
In Texas, many counties operate large jails that not only house prisoners awaiting trial, but also convicted inmates serving time. These jails, however, are increasingly running out of people to house.
The Austin American-Statesman found that more than 30,000 of the state’s 93,000 county beds are currently vacant. The newspaper attributed the situation to “declining crime rates, government budget cuts and increased use of treatment programs” which have “deflated a 20-year boom in building jails and prisons.”
For communities like Anson, the lack of criminals has been a disappointment. About two years ago, local leaders spent $35 million to build a new 1,100-bed jail. The town of 2,300 hoped the investment would yield nearly 200 jobs and $5 million for the local economy. Instead, the facility sits vacant and unused.
Some counties have tried to gain contracts with the federal government to house illegal immigrants awaiting deportation, but the market for deportees is already saturated. In February the nation’s largest private prison company, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), caused an unintended sensation when it offered to buy existing prisons…but only on the condition that states guarantee a 90% “occupancy” rate.
To Learn More:
Private Prison Company to Demand 90% Occupancy (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)