The economy of Sayre in western Oklahoma, population 4,114, has been wrecked by the closure of a private prison. Nearly 1,000 criminals were transfered out of Sayre this summer, eliminating 225 jobs and a third of the government’s revenues, the New York Times says. The prison shut down in a controversy over the cost of phone calls by inmates. Plans for a new City Hall have been halted indefinitely. The city has delayed renovating an old building for the Police and Fire Departments and constructing a 60-unit apartment complex to relieve a housing shortage.
These and other problems were caused by the closure of the five-year-old, $35 million North Fork Correctional Facility, run by Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America. The firm sent the inmates, who had been transferred there from Wisconsin, to another facility 100 miles away.
Prisoner families had paid $22 for 20 phone minutes, with Sayre getting 42 percent of the revenue and AT&T taking the rest. That meant $656,000 for Sayre, almost the entire amount of the city budget before the prison opened. After prisoners and their relatives complained, Sayre tried to renegotiate the rates, but AT&T refused.
Wisconsin wanted the rates lowered to $1.25 to connect and 22 cents per minute, below the Sayre rate of $3.95 to connect and 89 cents a minute. AT&T said it was charging the same rate at Sayre as it die elsewhere. Said a spokesman: “We find it hard to believe that they would shut down the prison over telephone rates. We had no interest in shutting the prison down.”