A recent nationwide study conducted by researchers at Washington State University found that rural communities, like Colorado’s Prison Valley in Fremont County, have slower economic growth and lower wages than communities that don’t pander to the easy money of prison funding.
The study looked at a nationwide sample of prison communities over a 25 year period and was led by Gregory Hooks, chairman of Washington State University’s department of sociology with Linda Lobao of Ohio State University.
According to Hooks, “We provide evidence that prison construction has actually impeded economic growth in those rural communities that were already growing at a slower pace.” He continues by saying, “There is a visible pattern of earnings and employment growth…those counties without a prison have the highest annual rate of growth – and those with a newly built prison grew at the slowest pace.”
Why prisons depress an economy
Research from the University of Mississippi found that most prison jobs actually go to people living in adjacent communities. It is the adjacent communities that receive minimal economic boost from their proximity to a prison town. While the communities closer to the prison become known as “prison towns” and discourage other forms of economic development.
The report also shows how business that would normally employ local workers and develop local industry, instead contract with prison industries to use cheap prison labor and manufacture goods inside the walls of the prison instead of the community. Fremont’s Correctional Complex uses cheap inmate (slave labor) to weld everything from dumpsters to prison cells for clients in and out of the state of Colorado. Fremont also has a fiberglass manufacturing business that produces industrial size fish tanks for commercial harvesting. Both these industries, if done outside the prison walls, would provide economic growth and living wage employment for citizens in the community.
Hooks concludes, “Regardless of the ideology and political aims, claims that prison construction accelerates local economic development fly in the face of mounting evidence that state and local initiatives rarely impact local growth.”