Monday, September 22, 2008

Prisons offer jobs, but do they boost economies?

Prison construction has been heralded as a way to boost struggling rural economies by providing steady jobs, but many question the overall impact on the local economies.

"Prisons have become a growth industry in rural America, where communities suffering from decades of decline in farming, mining and manufacturing jobs are grateful for solid employment opportunities," writes Robin Acton of the Tribune-Review in Pittsburgh. "Critics contend that prisons strain aging water, sewage and highway systems; burden local police and courts; and fail to stimulate new business and housing ventures."

Most recent prisons in Pennsylvania in recent years are in rural counties such as as Fayette, on the West Virginia border south of Pittsburgh, which is getting its second. County Commission Chairman Vincent Vicites told Acton that prisons create "recession-proof jobs at a good, family-sustaining wage level."

"The Center for Rural Pennsylvania used a 2006 Edinboro University of Pennsylvania study to examine the relationship between four prisons ... and surrounding communities," Acton notes. "Researchers determined that state corrections personnel and government officials should be realistic in their claims regarding the potential benefits of prisons because 'any economic impact emanating from the prison, whether positive or negative, was not obvious to many community residents.' . . . Tracy Hulling, public policy analyst and author of the report, "Building a Prison Economy in Rural America," suggested that hidden costs of prison business, such as added financial responsibilities for local police and court systems, often strain small communities. Hulling wrote that small towns with prisons, but few other amenities, may appear unattractive to businesses and industries." (Read more)

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