Crete: Will a promised economic windfall go to the prison company or to residents?

Crete: Will a promised economic windfall go to the prison company or to residents?

The Village of Crete, Ill., is surprisingly small for a community that sits just 30 minutes south of Chicago’s bustling Loop. The Will County village has fewer than 9,000 residents and a small, but solid, middle-class majority--the median household income is $70,074, according to the 2010 Census. For those residents, a prison that brings an influx of jobs might not seem like a bad idea.

But will Crete residents, and their neighbors in surrounding villages, realize the windfall of jobs and tax revenue that's being promised in exchange for their support?

David Shapiro, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union Prison Project, told National Public Radio last fall that the economic boom communities expect from private prisons are often overstated.

In a long-term assessment called The Prison Industry, researchers from Washington State University and Ohio State University studied the effects that prison construction has had on counties across America dating back to 1960. They found that, through 1990, there was no evidence that prisons stimulated economic growth. In most cases, prisons only contributed to a small spike in the employment of a low-skilled labor force.

The Corrections Corporation of America, which appears to be the frontrunner in the bid to operate a new facility in Crete, says that it draws 70 to 80 percent of its workforce from the towns where its current prisons operate.  On the Tennesse-based company's website, there are 235 jobs available. Of these, the most common positions are correctional officer and detention officer, neither of which require more than a high school diploma or GED.

For a village like Crete, where 37.4 percent of its residents are in managerial and professional positions and 26.5 percent are in sales and office management, according to census data, the private facility might not provide a lot of new jobs.

Even when the jobs come, they aren’t always great ones. In a list of about 537 lawsuits filed against the Corrections Corporation of America between 1998 and 2004 collected by the Private Corrections Working Group, about 119 suits were for wage disputes, wrongful terminations, employee sexual harassment or employee discrimination suits.

It doesn’t seem like taxpayers will get much from the building of the private prison either. The cost of building the prison, and paying to house each inmate, will fall to the county and the federal government, respectively.

And though the Corrections Corporation of America is assumed to run the prison at a lower cost than the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on its own would, an audit by Arizona's auditor general found this wasn’t the case for private prison-heavy Arizona.

In addition, for each prisoner kept in a Corrections Corporation of America detention center, the company is paid a flat amount, and any costs they can cut down from there go toward their profit. But the cost of finding immigrants to detain and transporting them to the center, as well as processing them through the court system, is held by public agencies.

It seems like, as with private prisons in other states, the economic windfall may actually go to the Corrections Corporation of America, not taxpayers or job seekers in the area.

© Community Renewal Society 2012

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