Chronic prison overcrowding has Hawaii and at least seven other states looking increasingly across state lines for scarce prison beds, usually in prisons run by private companies, the New York Times reports. 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 – an estimated 10,000 inmates — but the numbers are growing. One private prison company that houses inmates both in-state and out of state, the Corrections Corporation of America, has said it will spend $213 million on construction and renovation projects for 5,000 prisoners by next year.
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. The out-of-state transfers have raised concerns among some officials about excessive prisoner churn, consistency among private vendors, and safety. Moving inmates disrupts training and rehabilitation programs and puts stress on tenuous family bonds, making it more difficult to break the cycle of inmates committing new crimes after their release. Studies have found that convicts who keep in touch with families through visits and phone calls are less likely to violate their parole or commit new offenses. A 1997 study found that more than 60 percent of state inmates were held more than 100 miles from their last place of residence. “If you're being held on the other side of Texas or California, you better believe that for many inmates, they're beyond visitation,” said Paige Harrison of the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.