I read a distressing article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal yesterday.
Apparently the town of Pahrump is welcoming a new private prison:
Community leaders in this recession-stricken town are eagerly anticipating the arrival of about 1,000 new residents, so long as they stay where they belong behind the stun fence and razor wire.
A new medium-security detention center for federal inmates is set to open Oct. 1 in Nye County’s largest community, and some say it’s already giving the town a much-needed economic boost.
The first paragraph of the story is all kinds of wrong but let’s move on.
The privately owned and operated facility is bringing 234 new full-time jobs to town, roughly half of which have been filled by local residents.
It also will bring in as many as 1,072 inmates under a contract with the U.S. Marshals Service.
“Nevada has the highest unemployment rate in the country, and Nye County has a higher rate than the state of Nevada,” County Commission Chairman Gary Hollis said during the prison’s dedication ceremony last week . “This is a very good day for many people in our community who now have a good, high-paying job.”
Nye County Manager Rick Osborne said unemployment in the rural county stood at 16.7 percent in June. At the very least, he said, the new prison should keep that from getting any worse.
The $83.5 million facility is owned by Corrections Corporation of America, a Tennessee-based company that builds and operates prisons across the country.
I really can understand the town’s desperation for jobs with an almost 17% unemployment rate. In addition, I am always mindful that there are real people living in real places who need to have their basic needs met. I am not discounting this reality. However, a number of reports have underscored the fact that while prisons can bring some immediate economic benefits to small rural towns in the medium and long run they tend to benefit the private companies and their shareholders a lot more than the town and their residents. A terrific illustration of this truth can be seen in the film by Katie Galloway called Prison Town, USA. The film shows the impact that a massive prison has on community residents and local businesses in a small town in California called Susanville.
The Prison Town comic published by Lois Aherns at the Real Costs of Prisons Project also highlights the fact that the purported positive economic impact of prisons for local communities is overstated to say the least.
AFSCME has put together a good mythbuster document about private prisons and their supposed economic and social benefits. You can read that here. Finally, in terms of other convincing research, Good Jobs First did a good case study of the economic impact of private prisons.
The final sentence of the article is symbolic of the place that prisons have in many communities:
At the request of residents, CCA surrounded the prison with an earthen berm that almost completely hides the structure from view.