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  • mcprison mcprison Sep 7, 2001 12:17 PM Flag

    Story in Wall St Journal, 1


    Mississippi's Prison-Building Spree Creates
    Glut of Lockups and Struggle for Convicts

    Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

    JACKSON, Miss. -- With a lobbyist at his side, Wayne Calabrese sat
    down to a friendly dinner here with two Mississippi state senators in late
    March. The restaurant's player piano plinked nearby while Mr. Calabrese,
    president and chief operating officer of Wackenhut Corrections Corp.,
    described his company's extraordinary problem.

    Two hundred miles north, at a Wackenhut-run
    prison in Holly Springs, Miss., 130 steel bunks
    stood bare and unused in two cavernous cell blocks.
    Wackenhut had closed the units because it no longer
    had inmates to fill them. Every day, the empty space
    was costing the company money it had expected to
    be paid by the state. Mr. Calabrese recalls telling
    the senators Wackenhut couldn't afford so many
    empty beds, and he hoped they could help.

    Even after Mississippi built 15 prisons in seven
    years, nobody thought the day would come when
    there weren't enough felons to fill every cell. But that
    day came this year, when the state found itself with 2,000 more prison beds
    than prisoners.

    The companies and counties that provide those beds responded with a bold
    request: Pay us for cells Mississippi doesn't need. So persuasive were prison
    operators that state lawmakers at one point wrote legislation that, according
    to corrections commissioner Robert Johnson, set aside millions of dollars for
    empty prison beds -- or "ghost inmates."

    The prisons won this favor even as lawmakers were cutting state budgets for
    classroom supplies, community colleges, mental-health services and other
    programs. "We've got this all wrong," Mississippi Attorney General Mike
    Moore says. "We're the poorest state in the union, and we're investing
    money in failures."

    After two decades of stuffing ever more prisons
    with ever more prisoners, many states are
    looking to reverse that grim trend. What
    unfolded in Mississippi after Mr. Calabrese's evening with the senators
    shows how hard that could be.

    Prison expansion here -- as in many states -- spawned a new set of vested
    interests with stakes in keeping prisons full and in building more. In
    Mississippi, those interests include private prison companies and their
    lobbyists, legislators with prisons in their districts, counties that operate their
    own prisons and sheriffs who covet convicts for local jails. The result has
    been a financial and political bazaar, with convicts in stripes as the prize.

    The number of people behind bars in the U.S. has nearly quadrupled in the
    past 20 years -- to about two million -- and prison overcrowding persists in
    many states. But as crime has declined, some

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