Private Prisons Benefiting Communities

It isn’t uncommon for a community to offer initial resistance to a private prison opening in the area. The village of Coity, Wales was no exception. Neither is it unusual that members of the village have now changed their opinion of the prison after seeing the positive effects it had on the community. According to a BBC report today, Wales is close to choosing a site for a new private corrections facility to help relieve over crowding. Locals in the potential sites have expressed concerns, but Coity local councilor Ella Dodd is trying to relieve their concerns. She says that the prison facility has brought great benefits to the community, and they have built a good relationship with the prison operators. “Security is really good,” she says, “So I would tell people…not to worry.” As profiled in Reason’s Annual Privatization Report 2008, Arizona has been engaged in a similar debate as Wales over the issue of private prisons. Arizona now has nearly 25% of its inmates in private prisons, according to the Arizona Daily Star. This fact has been cause for both praise and concern amongst state leaders. Legislation that would have tightened the rules for Arizona’s private corrections industry failed to pass out of committee in March. Senate Bill 1142, drafted by Governor Janet Napolitano’s Office and introduced by Republican Sen. Robert Blendu, would have restricted the types of out-of-state felons that can be held in private prisons and mandated a new set of reporting requirements for private prison operators. The measure was not the first attempt to increase private prison regulation. Then-Sen. Pete Rios introduced a bill in 1998 with similar provisions that failed. But the past ten years have changed his position on the matter, after seeing the positive effect CCA prisons have had in providing jobs and other economic benefits to Arizona communities. SB 1142 was also not the last attempt in Gov. Napolitano’s fight against private prisons. The Arizona Senate rejected another bill in June, this time sponsored by Sen. Debbie McCune Davis, which would limit the type of prisoners private prisons could accept into their custody. Support to defeat the bill came from both Republicans and Democrats. While debate continues in the state legislature, a project that sent Arizona felons to Indiana state prisons by private contract ended in 2008. An agreement was reached in March 2007 between the two states to ease overcrowding in Arizona by utilizing unused beds in New Castle, Indiana. But a riot in late April 2007, along with a lockdown in January, has caused officials to dissolve the agreement, citing a failure to properly contain the prisoners. This comes as a setback to the private prison industry, which has promoted such agreements to help fill its beds throughout the nation with prisoners from other states. More prisoners means more jobs as facilities run at higher capacity. But the April riot by out-of-state prisoners brought many questions, and a second clash between inmates and prison guards triggering a January lockdown was the final straw. The private operator of the New Castle facility, The GEO Group, Inc. (GEO) has since enhanced security and maintains the effectiveness and efficiency of their prisons, but Indiana now says they need the room for their own prisoners. On the local level, Mohave County officials rejected a proposal from CCA in May to build a new medium security prison near Dolan Springs, Arizona. Although the developers promised the prison would only be for low-level crime, opponents claimed other prisons had made similar promises and failed to up hold them. For more information about privatized corrections operations see Reason studies located on our website. To read more about current prison privatization measures see the Public Health and Safety section of our Annual Privatization Report 2008.