Academic journal article International Journal of Economic Development

Prisons in North Carolina: Are They a Viable Strategy for Rural Communities?

Academic journal article International Journal of Economic Development

Prisons in North Carolina: Are They a Viable Strategy for Rural Communities?

Article excerpt


A prison construction boom is currently underway nationwide. Non-urban areas are forming the impetus behind this movement. As rural areas become the sites of these new prisons, the local economies are experiencing associated growth through the provision of stable employment in often economically depressed locales. This is the case in North Carolina. North Carolina has effectively used its increased capacity needs for prisons to promote economic development in rural counties. Most of the academic and policy studies of economic development success to date focus solely on community level variables and their effectiveness. This article looks at the importance of state level siting procedures on host communities' experiences with prisons. The North Carolina Department of Corrections siting policies and procedures have contributed greatly to the success of this construction program. This paper will discuss factors affecting community receptivity to prisons with a focus on the effect that the state's, in this case North Carolina's siting procedures has on the community's perception. (1)


Rural America has been increasingly eager to house prisons (Welch 1991; Young, 1994). (2) The logistical reasons are straightforward. These locales are more likely to pursue and obtain economic opportunities to offset their losses stemming from de-industrialization and the demise of the agricultural base of the economy.

Numerous articles and studies have been published regarding the booming "prison economy" across the United States. However, most of the literature has focused on community-level variables of residents' perceptions of what having a prison in the vicinity entails compared with the reality of the situation (Parcells & Farrington, 1988; Hodge and Staeheli, 1988; Poole and Lidman, 1988; Poole and Lidman, 1988; Carlson, Katherine, 1988), (Lidman, Russell, 1988; Rogers and Haimes, 1987; Sechcrest, 1992; Schicor; Smykla, Cheng, Ferguson, Trent, French, and Waters, 1984; Stanley, Craig, 1978). What will make a rural community define a potential prison siting in its midst as an economic development trophy? Alternatively, what will make a prison an unwelcome nuisance to be avoided (NIMBYISM--not in my backyard)? The question does not seem to be one of rational calculations, but of issue definition and intuitive decision-making. Many factors of varying importance determine the community's attitude and perception of what the prison means as an issue.

One factor that has been largely overlooked in the literature is the effect that the state's siting strategy (or model) has on determining whether the community is enthusiastic or negative in its views of a prison siting. This article examines prison sitings from 1979 to the present, in one state, North Carolina. The author addresses the factors affecting community receptivity to a siting and describes the state-promoted "good neighbor" policy that characterizes the manner in which new prison locales are identified and approved within this state.

Research shows that a prison siting in a community results in little or no negative impact on the host community's objective reality. Incidences of escapes, in-migration of prison families, and changes in real estate prices represent improbable events (Thies, 1998; Thies, 2000; Carlson, 1988; Lidman and Poole; Lidman, 1988; Abram & Lyons, 1988). Economic benefits do result from job creation and other additional industrial and commercial activity, even though additional tax revenues are not significant.

Prison sitings are inherently controversial. As one North Carolina Department of Corrections official stated, "whenever you site a prison, someone is going to be upset" (Interview, N.C. Department of Corrections, 2000). Historically, most communities shunned prison sitings. Until the mid-to-late 1980's it was unheard of that a community would actually seek out a prison. …

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