Housing Prisoners from other States has become a $320 Million a Year Industry

Tuesday, November 26, 2013
(photo: Spencer Weiner, AP)

Private prison operators are making more than $300 million a year just to house inmates shipped out of their home states, according to a new report (pdf) from the progressive group Grassroots Leadership.


At least four states—California, Vermont, Idaho and Hawaii—have exported a combined 10,500 prisoners to other states, where they’re being held in facilities operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s largest private prison company.


“The practice of shipping prisoners out of state is costly, it’s unsustainable, it’s hurting families …” report author Holly Kirby told the media. “These transfers allow states to avoid making common-sense reforms.”


So far this year, Vermont shipped prisoners to Arizona and Kentucky; Idaho sent prisoners to Colorado; California exported prisoners to Arizona, Oklahoma and Mississippi; and Hawaii sent prisoners to Arizona.


A fifth state, West Virginia, intends to ship 400 inmates to private out-of-state prisons.


Prisoners in these private out-of-state facilities are held between 450 and 3,000 miles from their home states, which are estimated to be paying a combined total of $320 million this year for the out-of-state incarcerations.


Monica Hopkins, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho (ACLU), told reporters that her state has a “horrid history” of exporting prisoners.


“We have over 16 years of transferring inmates out of state, to facilities where we found abuse and poor living conditions, squalor, understaffing and deaths–including suicide and deaths within facilities that couldn’t be monitored because of a lack of transparency, because quite frankly, they were out of state,” Hopkins said.


A spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said its plan to end California’s out-of-state prisoner transfer program by 2016 was rendered impossible by the state’s prisoner over-crowding court case. He added that Governor Jerry Brown is trying to avoid early release of serious offenders, and transferring prisoners out of California is viewed as a last resort.


Grassroots Leadership, whose mission is to reduce incarceration and close private prisons, states in its report that these prisoner transfers are “diminishing prisoners’ ties to family and community” while “serv[ing] the interests of an industry that views prisoners as commodities and perpetuate[s] our nation’s mass incarceration crisis.”


The report recommends that state lawmakers ban “the exportation of incarcerated people,” and instead “prioritize strategies to reduce prison populations.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

Locked Up & Shipped Away (Grassroots Leadership) (pdf)

Humans Shipped Across the Country: How America Exports Inmates to Private Prisons (by Josh Eidelson, Salon)

Out-of-State Prisoners Are Coming Home to Crowded Prisons (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)


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