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Profiting From Crime Still Doesn't Pay

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  • Djehuti Sundaka
    New prisons sit idle as states cope with busted budgets By CHARLES SHEEHAN, Associated Press PITTSBURGH (January 8, 2003 6:41 a.m. EST) - States have spent
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 8, 2003
      New prisons sit idle as states cope with busted budgets

      By CHARLES SHEEHAN, Associated Press

      PITTSBURGH (January 8, 2003 6:41 a.m. EST) - States have
      spent millions of dollars building new prisons to ease
      pressure on existing facilities, but many haven't been able
      to open as state budget crunches have left little money to
      operate them.

      In Pennsylvania, where the inmate population recently topped
      40,000 for the first time, new prisons were recently built in
      Forest and Fayette counties. But the Department of
      Corrections has put off their opening until at least 2004 to
      satisfy a state mandate to cut spending.

      The department was asked to cut $15 million from its budget
      to help close a state deficit projected to hit $433 million
      this summer.

      "The department either had to lay people off or delay opening
      these prisons," said Corrections Department spokeswoman Susan
      McNaughton. "It's not like we don't need the space - we
      really do. We just don't have the money."

      Pennsylvania is not alone, said Joe Weedon, the legislative
      liaison for the American Correctional Association, an
      industry group.

      "State departments of corrections are being asked by their
      governors to streamline budgets to meet cost limitations,"
      Weedon said. "Many states, including Pennsylvania, have
      elected to delay the opening of facilities as a way of
      meeting those budgetary obligations."

      Weedon could not say how many states have chosen to delay
      opening new prisons, but corrections officials from several
      states confirmed that prisons have not been opened or have
      been closed for budgetary reasons.

      In Illinois, the $143 million maximum-security Thompson
      Correctional Center was completed months ago, slated to house
      2,200 inmates. But it remains empty because of a budget
      crunch in that state.

      "It's just sitting there," said spokesman Brian
      Fairchild. "We don't have any money."

      Nevada closed down a wing of the Nevada State Prison to cut
      costs. Jackie Crawford, director of the Nevada Department of
      Corrections, said she is also recommending the cancellation
      of a planned $35 million expansion at the state's High Desert
      Prison to save as much as $3 million in annual operating

      In Wisconsin, a $48 million prison completed last year
      remains closed and its future is uncertain.

      "We have 3,500 prisoners housed in other states right now,"
      Wisconsin Department of Corrections spokesman Bill Clausius
      said. "But the state, depending on who you talk to, is facing
      a $2.8 billion biennium deficit."

      Pennsylvania has seen its inmate population rise to 40,062 as
      of Tuesday - up more than 3,200 from last year's figure,
      McNaughton said. The prison system has a capacity of 34,433.

      "We double-cell lot of inmates," she said. "We're just
      getting to the point where we really need the space."

      Prison officials in each state emphasized that the prisons
      remain secure.

      The delay in prison openings can be a blow to the surrounding
      communities, which often look to new prisons as a way to
      revitalize their economies. Wes Warren, the general manager
      for two hotels in northwest Pennsylvania, said a new Microtel
      Inn a few miles from the vacant Forest County prison is about
      a third of the way through construction.

      "If it wasn't for prison, there wouldn't be a hotel," Warren

      The county consistently has the highest unemployment rate in

      "We get people up here for the hunting season and then the
      trout season and that's about it," said county Commissioner
      Basil Huffman. "As soon as people knew the prison was coming,
      a lot of that's changed. We've got a lot riding on that
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