Rural prisons: economic bane or bust?

Some interesting points about prisons from a Georgia blogger.

Keith McCants posted Wednesday in Peanut Politics, Prisons as Economic Development: Boom or Bust for Rural Georgia? In Georgia today there are more prisoners than farmers. And while most prisoners in Georgia are from urban communities, most prisons are now in rural areas with high levels of poverty & a unskilled, uneducated workforce. During the last two decades, the large-scale use of incarceration to solve social problems has combined with the fall-out of globalization to produce an ominous trend: prisons have become a “growth industry” in rural Georgia, in fact Rural America.

Communities in isolated regions of the state began suffering from declines in farming, mining, timber-work and manufacturing are now begging for prisons to be built in their backyards. The economic restructuring that began in the troubled decade of the 1980s has had dramatic social and economic consequences for rural communities and small towns. Together the farm crises, factory closings, corporate downsizing, shift to service sector employment and the substitution of major regional and national chains for local, main-street businesses have triggered profound change in these areas. So, many rural areas have bought into prisons as a growth industry.

Some consequences are pretty obvious:

Many small rural towns have become dependent on an industry which itself is dependent on the continuation of crime-producing conditions.
Others may take more time to see:
Ironically, while rural areas pursue prisons as a growth strategy, whether this is a wise or effective strategy is far from clear. Increasing evidence suggests that by many measures prisons do not produce economic growth for local economies and can, over the long term, have detrimental effects on the social fabric and environment of rural communities. Moreover, this massive penetration of prisons into rural Georgia portends dramatic consequences for the entire state as huge numbers of inmates from urban areas of the state become rural residents for the purposes of Census-based formulas used to allocate government dollars and political representation.

Despite a lack of studies documenting the effects of prisons on rural areas and small towns over time….

Actually, there are such studies. Here’s one about New York state counties that have private prisons vs. ones that don’t. The gist:
Counties that hosted new prisons received no economic advantage as measured by per capita income.
Keith McCants concludes:
Indeed, the rural prison boom occurred at a time of falling crime rates and experience shows that the federal and state governments are reluctant to pull the plug on the many interests that now lobby for and feed off prisons. Allowed to continue, this cycle will have catastrophic consequences for the health and welfare of individuals, families, and communities in urban and rural areas, and indeed for the nation.
Any rural community with a prison risks ending up like Littlefield, Texas, stuck with a prison that closed, or Grayson County, Virginia whose prison was built but never opened.

Here’s a place we can stand against the bad economics of private prisons. We don’t need a private prison in Lowndes County, Georgia. Spend those tax dollars on rehabilitation and education instead. Follow this link to petition the Valdosta-Lowndes County Industrial Authority.