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The Business of Prisons

The federal prison population has increased “from 24,252 in 1980” to more than 217,000 today, making the Bureau of Prisons the nation’s largest correctional system. Of course, more prisoners means more prisons. The BOP operates 117 institutions and anticipates activating two more in the next year: the secure female facility in Aliceville, AL and FCI Berlin, NH. As highlighted by a New Hampshire Union Leader articleconcerning a job fair held yesterday for the Berlin facility, prisons have sadly become economic engines for some local economies:

The Federal Bureau of Prisons job fair at New Hampshire Employment Security in Berlin drew more than 50 interested job seekers from all over New Hampshire.
‘This crowd made us happy,’ said Diana Nelson, employer services representative for New Hampshire Employment Security. ‘I don’t think any of us expected this. I think people want to talk to real, live people from the talent team and the Bureau of Prisons.’[…]
Nelson said the prison has 86 staff members on site now — or about 40 percent of the total needed. Roughly 200 positions are unfilled, with a little less than half that number being correction officer positions.
With the BOP operating at 38 percent over rated capacity and with population growth projected to outpace bed space, the addition of these two institutions will do little to alleviate pressures. That is why the activation process has started at two other prisons: USP Yazoo City, MS and FCI Hazelton, WV.
The economic benefit that prisons provide the communities in which they are situated also helps inform Congressional infightingover delays in the BOP’s purchase of the shuttered Thomson Correctional Center, a former Illinois state maximum-security prison:
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) last week said that members of the Illinois Congressional Delegation should stop making excuses and start increasing pressure on Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) – the only person standing in the way of the federal government’s purchase of the prison.
In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr. and Deputy Attorney General James Cole, Durbin wrote: ‘Some in the Illinois Congressional Delegation continue to look for excuses such as [the issue of detainees] to take the pressure off of Mr. Wolf and to suggest that the Obama Administration is somehow to blame for the delay. Simply put, the State of Illinois and the Bureau of Prisons have agreed on a price and a process for purchase, the federal funds have been identified, and the issue of detainees has been settled. The only hold up is the signature of Congressman Wolf on a standard reprogramming request. Any suggestion of other outstanding issues is inaccurate.’[…]
The sale of Thomson enjoys bipartisan support from members of the Illinois and Iowa Congressional Delegations as well as broad-based local and state support. Sale of the facility will lead to significant job creation, more than 1,100 jobs, and inject at least $1 billion into the region’s economy.
Lest there be any doubt of the strong financial incentives that underlie the imprisonment industry, one need look no further than a recent proposal from Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a for-profit concern:
At a time when states are struggling to reduce bloated prison populations and tight budgets, a private prison management company is offering to buy prisons in exchange for various considerations, including a controversial guarantee that the governments maintain a 90% occupancy rate for at least 20 years.
The $250 million proposal, circulated by the Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America to prison officials in 48 states, has been blasted by some state officials who suggest such a program could pressure criminal justice officials to seek harsher sentences to maintain the contractually required occupancy rates.
‘You don’t want a prison system operating with the goal of maximizing profits,’ says Texas state Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat and advocate for reducing prison populations through less costly diversion programs. ‘The only thing worse is that this seeks to take advantage of some states’ troubled financial position.’

CCA contracts with the BOP to manageand expand institutions. When announcing its expansion and management of CI McCrae, GA, in October 2011, CCA offered:
Under the new contract CCA will have the ability to house up to 2,275 male inmates for the BOP after completing a 454-bed expansion of the McRae facility.
The contract, awarded as part of the Criminal Alien Requirement XII Solicitation (‘CAR 12’), becomes effective December 1, 2012, and has an initial four-year term with three two-year renewal options or up to 10 years if all renewal options are executed. Under the new CAR 12 contract, following a 90-day ramp period for the incremental population, CCA will receive a fixed monthly payment based on a guaranteed population equal to 90% of the expanded rated capacity and a per diem payment for each additional inmate thereafter. Under the provisions of the award, the Company could earn revenues of up to approximately $152.0 million during the initial four-year term of the contract, or up to $401.0 million if all renewal options are executed.
Former Bureau of Prisons Director Harley Lappin joined CCA as its Chief Corrections Officer on June 1, 2011, less than one month after retiring from the agency.