California has shipped 700 convicts to privately owned and operated prisons in Arizona, Tennessee, and Mississippi, says the Los Angeles Times. The nation’s big private prison companies, having long lusted after a share of California’s 173,000-inmate population, now foresee a steady stream of business. Depending on the outcome of legal challenges, California could be “one of the longtime drivers of growth for the private prison industry,” industry analyst Kevin Campbell said. For decades, companies attempted to win contracts to house convicts in privately owned or leased in-state prisons, only to see their efforts thwarted by the wealthy, politically influential prison guards union.
Now, California has signed a contract with Corrections Corporation of America. to house as many as 4,000 prisoners at a per-prisoner price of $63 a day. That compares with the average of $123 a day that the state estimates it costs to keep an inmate in one of California’s 33 prisons. California is one of at least 30 states that have turned to the private prison industry for help after realizing that they couldn’t build enough prisons to keep pace with a flood of new inmates as lawmakers passed ever-tougher sentencing laws. Over the last decade, the number of inmate beds in private prisons has jumped sixfold to about 112,000 in mid-2006, says the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Most of the growth was at three major operators — Corrections Corp., Boca Raton, Fla.-based Geo Group and Houston-based Cornell Cos.