Pennsylvania Looks to Move 1,600 Inmates to Minnesota

Pennsylvania currently has 1,600 prison inmates that the state is looking to move elsewhere to reduce overcrowding. Appleton, MN is hoping that the deal goes through in order to fill up the CCA-owned Prairie Correctional Facility. The facility has had problems in the past with keeping the facility full as they just lost a large number of inmates from Washington state. CCA has told 120 of the facility’s employees that they would lose their jobs right before Chrismas on December 1st. Chris Havens and Kevin Giles covered the story for the Star Tribune:

  • “We’re trying to help preserve those jobs any way we can,” said David Crist, deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC).
  • Crist said Monday that DOC is acting as Prairie’s agent as part of an agreement among states to shift prisoners when overcrowding occurs. “States exchange these prisoners without money changing hands,” he said.
  • Minnesota is one of six states — Kansas, Nevada, Oklahoma, Michigan and Virginia being the others — interested in taking the prisoners. Pennsylvania seeks the transfers because of overcrowding in the state’s 27 prisons.
  • Losing the Appleton prison, in west-central Minnesota near the South Dakota border, would devastate an economically depressed area, said Mayor Ron Ronning, who also works at the prison.
  • “If Prairie fails, I can say to you easily that 60 percent of this city’s budget would go away,” he said. “It’s kind of a depressed time for us right now, and I hope something breaks loose for us.”
  • The prison pays about $1.1 million to the city of about 2,000 residents each year for taxes and water usage. Housing 1,600 new inmates, he said, would be a “dream come true.”
  • If Pennsylvania chose Minnesota for the transfer, none of the new male inmates would have mental health problems or serious medical and behavioral conditions.
  • “Pennsylvania isn’t looking to dump a number of difficult-to-manage offenders outside of their system,” Crist said.
  • They also would come at Pennsylvania’s expense — at no cost to Minnesota taxpayers, he said.

Does anyone else see what I see? First of all, the idea of prisoners changing hands “without money changing hands” seems noble enough until you realize that the prisoners are the currency. The article points out that these 1,600 souls are mostly non-violent offenders stuck for petty crimes–prime meat for private prisons as they are easier to maintain and require less specialized supervision. These inmates are just as good as money to Minnesota, and that makes me sick to my stomach. Prisoners should be a cost to society, so that sending someone to jail is a last-choice option for a state government. When prisoners become currency we can not expect to see our staggering figure of 2.3 million imprisoned Americans decrease any time soon.

Secondly, if a single prison brings in 60% of a city’s budget you need to hire a new accounting department. Even if 60% of a budget was brought in by a hug factory there is no good sense in putting more than half your eggs in a single basket. Yes, if the Prairie Correctional Facility goes under, as some privately owned franchises have a history of doing, then the city of Appleton is in trouble. Not only will a large amount of citizens lose their jobs, but a large portion of the income will leave. I can’t blame the city for doing what they need to do in order to keep the finances in order. However, this is the danger of opening a private prison in a city and planning for it to be a job and budget savior. Nothing lasts forever, and when a city banks on a prison as their main source of city income and job creation the city government takes a huge risk. Did Appleton not pick up on this after their Washington prisoners were swept away from them in order to cause this mess? What happens when Pennsylvania wants their inmates back? Housing inmates is not a sustainable business model, and it is not a dependable source of steady income for a city. I hope that cities stop learning this lesson the hard way.