Study: Private Prisons Lead To Fewer Jobs

By Jessica Robinson

Researchers say the economic benefits of prisons often don't materialize for rural communities. That's according to a new paper by Northwest sociologists. In fact, they found communities with private prisons fare worse than they did before.

Washington State University sociologist Gregory Hooks says rural areas that opt to build prisons, even courting them with tax breaks, have one main goal in mind: jobs.

Gregory Hooks: “You know, you look across the way and you say 'Oh there's a prison. Fifty people have a job there. So that's 50 new jobs in my community.' … Only it's not.”

Hooks and his colleagues previously found that prisons don’t contribute much to economic growth. But their latest research suggests privately run prisons built in the ‘90s have had a negative effect.

Gregory Hooks: “What that means is, when a new prison comes, there's actually fewer jobs, not more, in the end.”

Hooks doesn't know why exactly. Factors may include the effect on the local business climate, added competition from cheap inmate labor and the low pay scale for private prison officers.

Idaho has two privately operated facilities, including the state’s largest prison south of Boise. They were built too late to be included in the study.

The paper will be published in the journal Social Science Research.

On the Web:

"Prisons, Jobs and Privatization: The Impact of Prisons on Employment Growth in Rural U.S. Counties, 1997-2004"

A short history of Oregon's "experiment" with privatization:

Prisons in Idaho:

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