The issue is reaching epidemic proportions and it's going to continue to get worse as the sentencing structures that are in place keep people in prison longer for non-violent crimes. States can't afford to build their way out and with the lack of programs and jobs for people getting out the recidivism rate is going to continue to climb. We know that one of the best way to keep people connected to their communities is to keep them connected to their families, that is a little difficult when family members are thousands of miles away.
ELOY, Ariz. — For Bob Weier, a Hawaiian convicted of armed robbery, incarceration at the Red Rock Correctional Center on the outskirts of this dusty town is the latest stop in a far-flung and nomadic exile.
Since his imprisonment 12 years ago on Maui, Mr. Weier, 53, has served his sentence in prisons in Minnesota, Oklahoma and Arizona. He last saw his daughter 11 years ago and has five grandchildren he has never met.
“To them, I’m just a voice who talks to them on the phone for a while,” said Mr. Weier, a heavyset man who expects to be released next year.
Chronic prison overcrowding has corrections officials in Hawaii and at least seven other states looking increasingly across state lines for scarce prison beds, usually in prisons run by private companies. Facing a court mandate, California last week transferred 40 inmates to Mississippi and has plans for at least 8,000 to be sent out of state.
The long-distance arrangements account for a small fraction of the country’s total prison population — about 10,000 inmates, federal officials estimate — but corrections officials in states with the most crowded prisons say the numbers are growing.
One private prison company that houses inmates both in-state and out of state, the Corrections Corporation of America, announced last year that it would spend $213 million on construction and renovation projects for 5,000 prisoners by next year.
“They find that their prison populations are at or beyond capacity and they have to relieve that capacity,” Tony Grande, the company’s president for state relations, said of states turning to private prisons. “They quickly turn to us and we have open prison capacity where we can accommodate growth.”
About one-third of Hawaii’s 6,000 state inmates are held in private in Arizona, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Kentucky. Alabama has 1,300 prisoners in Louisiana. About 360 inmates from California, which has one of the nation’s most crowded prison systems, are in Arizona and Tennessee.
But while the out-of-state transfers are helping states that have been unwilling, or too slow, to build enough prisons of their own, they have also raised concerns among some corrections officials about excessive prisoner churn, consistency among the private vendors and safety in some prisons.
Moving inmates from prison to prison disrupts training and rehabilitation programs and puts stress on tenuous family bonds, corrections officials say, making it more difficult to break the cycle of inmates committing new crimes after their release.
Several recidivism studies have found that convicts who keep in touch with family members through visits and phone privileges are less likely to violate their parole or commit new offenses. There have been no studies that focused specifically on out-of-state placements.