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Colorado: Letter to the Editor.

August 18, 2004
Rebutting councilman's letter
Frank Smith

Ted Amox, in defending his decision to welcome a for-profit prison company to Benson, made statements that should not go unchallenged.

Amox claims that the public was notified in due time of the operator's proposal.

But there is an open meetings act obligation that makes all meetings subject to the light of day, no matter how informal they may have been, so long as the municipal decision makers are present. Otherwise, the

public would not get to participate in the process until after authorities had already made up their minds.

Amox claims current City overspending is a good justification to bring the prison to Benson. Rather than rein in expenditures, he wants more money to feed the beast.

By the same logic he would welcome a toxic waste dump into the community.

Four studies have been published in the last two years that indicate prison construction does not result in economic benefits for rural communities.

These studies were conducted by faculty from the Universities of Washington, Ohio, Iowa and Kentucky, and by the Sentencing Project. They looked at all prison settings, not just private ones, but since the privates usually pay far less than the public's with fewer benefits, they would have an even greater negative impact on a community.

Amox felt no "industries and manufacturers" would locate in Benson.

The studies show that businesses are far less likely to locate when there is a prison as a new neighbor.

While he feels a private prison operator would ask nothing to site in Benson, studies show that states and municipalities subsidize as many as 79 percent of the for-profit prisons built by the largest rent-a-pen operator.

Amox naively assumes jobs would be available for local high school graduates and GED holders, but the truth is that few people are suited to withstand the stress of working in a prison environment and fewer still are willing to work for the less-than-living-wage pay offered by for-profit prison companies.

In high-wage California, MTC paid $8 per hour for guards in their Eagle Mountain prison. State correctional officers there have a median wage of $54,000 per year, over $25 per hour.

A west Texas prison supervisor told me that his company starts new staff at $6.45 an hour. The alleged health insurance benefits are so paltry that few employees can afford the co-pays for their near worthless plans. Retirement benefits? The industry last reported an annual employee turnover rate of 52 percent. These low-end jobs are hardly careers.

When the city finally acquires the building at the end of its contract with MTC, it would likely be a decrepit eyesore and an added burden on local taxpayers.

The nation's landscape is littered with failed for-profit prison ventures, from Morgantown, Pa., to MTC's now-closed Eagle Mountain prison where two inmates were butchered last October. Could Cochise County afford to prosecute murderers from other jurisdictions?

Before attempting to dump this prison on Benson homeowners, Amox and his colleagues would have been well advised to question the proposition with the old adage, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

(Editor's note: Frank Smith is a volunteer field organizer with Private Corrections Institute. His commentary was sent via email.)

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