Are prisons and prison jobs saving rural America?

From Daily Yonder: Elizabeth Sanders / Data from U.S. Department of Corrections and U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Red areas show the Central Appalachian counties in which state and federal prisons are located. Five federal prisons have been built in the area since 1992. One is proposed for Letcher County, Kentucky (shown in gray).

The great, rural-focused news site Daily Yonder grappled this week with a debate unfolding in the Appalachian coalfield region of Kentucky.

Advocates say construction of a new Federal prison in Letcher County could provide the next generation of economic activity, helping to usher in a “post-coal” economy.

According to DY, five Federal correctional facilities have been built in Appalachia since 1992, part of the massive rural build-out of incarceration facilities nationwide.

But some small town leaders who already have prisons are beginning to question their positive impact on the local jobs picture.  This from Daily Yonder:

Blaine Phillips succeeded Jimmie Greene as judge-executive and took office the year the McCreary federal prison opened. The front-page newspaper picture of the dedication ceremony shows Phillips standing shoulder to shoulder with U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers (Ky.-5th) smiling as they cut the ribbon for the new prison.  Five years later, Phillips spoke about the low number of local hires.

“Of the 300 and something employees that work at the prison, I don’t think we have over 25 or 30 local people that are working there,” he said. “And the others, they don’t even live here. They drive from Pulaski County and Whitley County; they don’t chose to live here. It was not what they were telling us at first.”

This kind of debate is happening across the US, from the Appalachias to rural California to northern New York.  What do you think?  If you live in a prison town, is it working for your community?

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