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The $100,000 bed

About a week ago someone sent me a story in the Pahrump Valley Times about a proposed new jail. For those not familiar with Pahrump, it is a town of about 25,000 located about 60 miles west of Las Vegas. The County Commissioners decided to issue $25.5 million in general obligation bonds for the project.  The proposed jail would hold about 225 people.  That turns out to be $113,000 per bed. 

 

The report noted that the County "will take advantage of Build America Bonds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the stimulus package, under which the federal government will pay 35 percent of the interest for the life of the bonds."

 

The Sheriff stated that "I think people realize the amount of beds may be a little extensive, but, however, we have to build a facility that's going to last us 25 years or more, and we have to look at the growth of Pahrump." 

Is there some kind of crime wave in Pahrump? According to CLR Search.com, the risk index for Pahrump is 15 compared to 126 for Nevada (100 = national average). According to the town Web site, "In the Pahrump Valley, people are relaxed and enjoy life because there is no traffic to fight, very little crime..." All other sources I could find confirm that there is very little crime.

So why the need for an expensive jail to house potentially 226 prisoners? Where will they come from? How many serious felonies will be committed, requiring booking at the jail?

The story noted that the town may be under some pressure to build a new jail, since the ACLU notified county officials that existing jail was an unconstitutional deprivation of prisoners' rights.  This came as a result of a 2003 inspection by the National Institute of Corrections, which was called upon to investigate the complaints of the violations alleged by the ACLU. Apparently local officials believe that the only way to address the violations would be to build a new jail.

 

Many new jails and prisons in several parts of the country stand empty or almost empty because they could not find enough offenders to lock up.  One local critic pointed brought up the $27 million, 460-bed jail that was constructed in Hardin, Montana. "Today the jail is empty, they have defaulted on their bonds, and the town of 3,400 is broke. They made the news last year, offering their facility to house the prisoners from 'Gitmo.' Wouldn't that be fun?" he asked.  One recent story about the Hardin jail noted that officials "have placed plans for a California company to take over a never-used, $27 million jail on hold."  Another report quoted a local official who said "It's been a complete fiasco since the beginning, and I don't see how they built it without any solid contracts." Still another odd twist to the story of Hardin is a report last September that: A" shadowy private security company that has no known clients but claims to have helped foreign governments combat terrorism and will protect anything from cruise ships to Pakistani convoys has taken over a jail in a small Montana town, with plans to build a law enforcement training facility on the property."

And so it goes in small towns all over the country, struggling through a recession, seeking help via the prison industrial complex.  I'm sure the people of Pahrump can come up with better uses of $25 million.

Keywords: cost-benefit analysis, jails, Randall Shelden

Posted in Blog, Correctional Institutions

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