For decades, the trade-off of becoming known as a “prison town” and being associated with incarceration has been a worthwhile trade-off for municipalities in financial straits. And states in need of a place to put their growing inmate populations during the height of the War on Drugs were willing to pay good money for it.
This is where publicly-traded, private prison companies such as Corrections Corporation of America and GEO, formerly known as Wackenhut, — what Eric Schlosser dubbed the “prison industrial complex” — stepped in. They offered cheaper and more efficient prison management than state-run systems because they could use non-union employees at lower wages with less training.
But much like the real estate market crash of the last ten years, the belief that the incarceration market was recession-proof and could only rise is being proved wrong. Declining crime rates are leaving more prisons empty. There isn’t enough crime to keep the prison industry afloat as it currently stands.
To save money, more states are moving their prisoners back to state-run facilities when space is available. Without prisoners, the private companies managing the facilities are leaving. And the small towns who bet on an ever-growing incarceration rate are left further in debt with few sources of capital. Read more.