No Room in Prison? Ship 'Em Off

Outsourcing inmates is saving Hawaii money, but at what cost?

| May 18, 2006

There are few things worse than serving time in prison -- except, that is, serving time in a prison thousands of miles from your home. That is the situation in which nearly two thousand Hawaiian convicts find themselves as their state leads a national trend of shipping prisoners to out-of-state low-cost prisons, reports Silja J.A. Talvi for In These Times.

Interstate prison transfers have been upheld by the US Supreme Court, even though the practice most often precludes the possibility of visits from family members back home. The Hawaiian inmates at the Otter Creek Correction Center, a women's prison in Wheelwright, Kentucky, are practically guaranteed to not see family until they are released, despite data showing that recidivism rates increase among inmates who don't receive visitors. Even a phone call, for these women, can be a financial impossibility due to contracts between prisons and phone companies.

Hawaii's search for a bargain led them to Wheelwright, where the Corrections Corporation of America operates the prison. The private company's offer of incarceration at bargain-basement prices was just what Hawaii wanted: It costs the state nearly half as much to have inmates imprisoned in Wheelwright as it does to keep them in Hawaii.

Though this scenario saves the state money, Talvi suggests that it is ultimately the prisoners who are paying the price. Conditions in the Wheelwright facility have been described as 'inhumane' by Kat Brady, coordinator of Community Alliance on Prisons in Honolulu. Sexual abuse and negligent medical care top a list of problems that have plagued the facility, and investigations are currently underway after an inmate died when her requests for medical attention went unheeded for a full month.

This should come as no surprise, however, at a prison that pays entry-level guards $7.60 an hour -- 'fast-food restaurant wages,' as Ken Kopczynski, executive director of Private Corrections Institute, calls them. Indeed, in a postscript to the article, Talvi reports that Wheelwright prison's drug counselor was recently arrested for trafficking in methadone.
-- Nick Rose

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