BY World's Editorials Writers
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
7/31/12 at 3:08 AM
What's happening in the southwestern Oklahoma town of Sayre is a cautionary tale about community reliance on private prisons.
Sayre began enjoying an economic boost several years ago when the North Fork Correctional Facility, owned by Corrections Corporation of America, received more than 2,000 inmates from California. The city enjoyed increased revenue - about $1.3 million annually to the town of 4,000. Business activity increased and employment soared.
But now, California is withdrawing its inmates. The inmates were sent to Sayre in the first place because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ordered California to reduce its enormous prison population.
There's confusion about how many of the more than 400 jobs linked to the private prison in Sayre will be lost. There are also questions about a riot in October, which injured 46 inmates and resulted in at least 20 charges for violent offenses. Prosecution of these cases has put a strain on the Beckham County district attorney's office.
Private prisons offer a pressure valve for state prisons that are at capacity. But in some ways states become the "prisoners" of private prisons. When those companies raise rates, states must come up with extra money.
If a crime program - the Justice Reinvestment Initiative - pays off in the next few years, more nonviolent inmates could be handled in the community, thus negating the need for more prisons or contracting with private prisons.
If it had to do it over, Sayre probably would not turn down the economic boost of at least $1.3 million annually, nor those 400 extra jobs. But now that economic windfall is headed out of town - at least for the time-being.
Take note: The state has other private prisons, which it relies upon heavily. Should it?