Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Straining Resources in a Small Town

After Ohio became the first state to sell a prison to a private company earlier this year, a few logistical details needed to be hammered out.  For instance, who would be responsible for dealing with major disturbances that could potentially happen at the prison?  Disturbances like riots, which seem to happen more frequently at privately-operated prisons?

When the state owned and operated the facility, the state's Highway Patrol would respond to such emergencies.  But now that the prison has been turned over to private hands, it appears as though the responsibility now falls on the local police department in Conneaut, Ohio.  The local government fears the strain this could put on the small town's resources if the police department ever needed to be called in to deal with an emergency at the prison.  So much so that they're heading to the state capitol to speak with Governor Kasich about it.

For all the great economic benefits that proponents of privatization discuss, they often fail to mention how the industry can act as a parasite on small communities.  They use tremendous amounts of resources, from water and electricity to sewer lines.  A prison can dissuade commerce and prospective homeowners.  There are numerous prisons sitting empty across the country right now, having been built on speculation but never filled; towns have defaulted on bond payments just to try to keep them open (See here for some coverage of the story in Hardin, Montana).  So to any government who contracts with a private company to operate a prison, I say: be careful, because you really do get what you pay for.

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