Swapping One McPrison for Another

On May 14 the Colorado Department of Corrections announced that it would be bringing nearly 500 state prisoners back from Sayre, Oklahoma, where they'd been stored in a private lockup like so much toxic waste for months because of a lack of bedspace in Colorado prisons.

At first glance, this is good news. Everybody knows inmates are less likely to become frequent guests of the big house if they stay in touch with an outside support network of family and friends — relationships that tend to fall apart during out-of-state transfers. And Sayre reportedly wasn’t quite as bad as previous gulags-for-hire that the DOC has used in the fine states of Mississippi and Texas; eyewitness reports on those garden spots can be found here and here.

But where are these 500 nomads headed?

To other private prisons here in Colorado, all operated by the Corrections Corporation of America. Founded by a group of Kentucky Fried Chicken investors, CCA has been busy adding beds to its facilities in Burlington and Las Animas to accommodate Colorado's surplus. So while they've brought the boys back in state, they're not exactly in state prisons.

At least they're not headed to CCA's Crowley County Correctional Facility, scene of a memorable riot three years ago. But CCA's other operations in Colorado have a similar history of sparse staffing, high turnover and dubious training (see, for example, this account of beatings and sexual hijinks at the Kit Carson Correctional Facility a few years back).

The DOC doesn't expect to have any more space in its own system opening up until a new 948-bed prison comes online in 2010. So there's still plenty of opportunity in the private sector for future franchisees. — Alan Prendergast

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Sean Cronin