Profiting From Crime Still Doesn't Pay
- 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
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
"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
"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
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