Longer Sentences, New Prisons Expected to Strain State Budgets in Some States, Innovative Private Firms Run Experimental Prisons and Reduce Costs

By David Holmstrom, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, September 12, 1994 | Go to article overview

Longer Sentences, New Prisons Expected to Strain State Budgets in Some States, Innovative Private Firms Run Experimental Prisons and Reduce Costs


David Holmstrom, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


IN southwest Virginia, residents made videos to promote the economically depressed area as the best location for a new state prison. The state agreed, and three more prisons may be on the way.

And in rural Potosi, Mo., zealous residents rode buses several times to the state legislature to lobby for a new prison in the county. Today the prison sits in a Potosi industrial park.

Prisons are sprouting prolifically all over the US. Depressed areas want the jobs that prisons bring, and a fearful public demands that more and more criminals be put away with longer sentences.

With $9.8 billion for new prison construction locked in President Clinton's crime bill, the boom in prisons will continue for many years to come. Last year, an average of 1,215 new bed spaces were required each week for sentenced state and federal prisoners.

But as politicians and the public applaud the building of more and more prisons, crime analysts and sociologists are concerned with two questions: What should be done with the increased numbers of men and women while they are in prison, and will states be able to provide billions of dollars to support hundreds of new prisons well into the next century?

"Virginia alone plans 27 new prisons over the next 10 years," says Bob Feild, head of the Committee on Architecture for Justice of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

"And the Virginia Department of Corrections says those prisons will be overcrowded after they are built," he says. "The crime bill does call for a task force to see what works and what doesn't in prisons in order to use the funds more effectively."

Prisons bring enormous costs, many of them hidden, such as health costs. Texas, for instance, has 48 various prison facilities under construction now, all to be completed by the end of 1995. In addition to the construction costs, each new inmate will cost the state between $16,000 and $20,000 a year to incarcerate.

Many states borrow millions to finance prisons through bonds, and interest rates can more than double the original cost. Florida will add enough prisons by 1996 to house 31,000 more inmates. If inmates with "three strikes" stay in prison for 20 or more years, or for life, the fiscal consequences could become a major part of state budgets.

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Longer Sentences, New Prisons Expected to Strain State Budgets in Some States, Innovative Private Firms Run Experimental Prisons and Reduce Costs
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