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  • mcprison mcprison Sep 7, 2001 12:24 PM Flag

    Wall St, 3

    This wasn't welcome news at the private and regional prisons, which depend
    on inmates for revenue. Since 1996, when Wackenhut opened a 1,000-bed
    prison in Holly Springs and CCA launched a similarly sized facility in
    Greenwood, the companies had enjoyed a constant supply of more than
    990 inmates each. The state, which owns the prison buildings, paid about
    $28 a day per prisoner to the private operators. As the year ended, the
    head counts in each facility had slipped to about 900 and were still falling.

    Prisons Are Like Airlines

    Prisons that charge fees crave prisoners like airlines crave passengers. Just
    as an airline's costs for fuel and crew stay nearly the same no matter how full
    a flight, prisons carry security, staff, utility and other fixed costs that can't
    easily be reduced in step with a declining inmate count. So those two
    moth-balled 65-man units at Wackenhut's Holly Springs prison represented
    about $109,000 a month in lost revenue. The move cut into profit because
    Wackenhut didn't reduce payroll, its biggest expense there.

    Likewise, each regional prison had been accustomed to having nearly all of
    its 250 beds filled, at daily rates of $25 to $27 per inmate. By January, the
    inmate counts at these facilities were hovering near 200 each. While the
    regionals aren't supposed to turn a profit, the counties that own and operate
    them rely on the revenue to pay off debt from building the prisons and to pay
    staff salaries.

    Most regionals were built in rural areas that needed
    an economic boost. Bolivar County's facility, in the
    Mississippi River delta in the northwest part of the
    state, employs about 40 local people. On a recent
    tour of the prison, a group of cinder-block buildings
    surrounded by razor wire and soybean fields, state
    Rep. Linda Coleman pointed to a guard and said, "If
    we don't get [more inmates], she might get laid off."

    In January, Ms. Coleman, the Democratic
    vice-chairwoman of the House penitentiary
    committee, lobbied Mr. Johnson on behalf of the
    Bolivar prison. She says she told him the prison
    needed more inmates so the county wouldn't default on $7.8 million in debt
    it took on to build the facility.

    Sorry, he recalls telling her. In the past, the state had steered most fresh
    convicts to the private and regional prisons, making sure they were close to
    full. But Mr. Johnson says he cared more about saving money than keeping
    the for-pay prisons happy. Now, as space opened up in the three state-run
    facilities, he was directing new inmates to those prisons.

    The state had agreed by contract to provide each regional facility with at
    least 200 inmates, which it was doing. Beyond that, he remembers telling
    Rep. Coleman, "I can't create any inmates."

    He says he was merely following the legislature's desire to corral corrections
    spending, which has more than doubled since 1994, to nearly $260 million a
    year. In contrast to the $25 to $28 daily per-prisoner fee the state paid to
    keep inmates in private or regional facilities, he says

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