Taking No Prisoners

| December 21, 2001

Taking No Prisoners

The Bonne Terre prison an hour outside of St. Louis, Missouri, has maintained a spotless record, reports St. Louis' Riverfront Times, but its not because of cutting-edge technology or prison reforms. It's because the 210-acre facility, completed last summer for $105 million, is empty.

Construction of the prison was scheduled to start six years ago, when there was a demand for bigger facilities due to an increase in inmates. Protests and lawsuits slowed the project, resulting in the facility being finished later than expected. By then, the state had already chosen a smaller prison to be opened to alleviate overcrowding.

Officials from Missouri's Department of Corrections say there is not enough money to open the facility, which would require $39 million for start-up costs. While the state legislature has been unable to find money in the budget to open the prison, the state is still paying for the finished facility. Lease payments total $168 million over the next 20 years, reports Ray Hartman, and the citizens of the town of Bonne Terre (population 4,000) are paying for it as well.

Anticipating an economic boom, including more than 800 new prison jobs, Bonne Terre taxpayers spent some $14 million in civic improvements. Now the town is struggling to make ends meet. Bonne Terre Mayor Sue Wilke is worried about the future of the town. 'I truly do not know how Bonne Terre will survive,' she says.
--Kate Garsombke
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