An Open Letter to the North Carolina General Assembly: Consider Leasing Correctional Facilities as a Taxpayer-Friendly Alternative to Costly New Prison Construction

Dear Legislator:

On behalf of the more than 10,100 members of the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) in North Carolina, I write regarding projected prisoner overcrowding in the state's correctional facilities.

The North Carolina Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission estimates that the state will have 44,765 inmates by 2015 with no occupancy room in existing correctional facilities for about 6,000 prisoners. These alarming statistics have spurred talk among policymakers about solutions to the looming problem of prison overcrowding. NTU urges you to consider taxpayer-friendly alternatives, such as leasing available out-of-state prison space, in place of spending millions on new or expanded correctional facilities.

Aside from the ever-present threat of cost overruns, construction of correctional facilities can be prohibitively expensive upfront (often amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars) and can take considerable time to complete (an average of two and one-half years). Instead of spending massive amounts of money on new prison space while waiting years for it to become available, North Carolina should consider leasing the state-of-the-art Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois. The complex is capable of housing 1,600 prisoners under maximum-security conditions and an additional 200 inmates in a minimum-security unit. The Center is located on 146 acres and consists of 15 buildings with 625,000 square feet of space.

According to the Illinois Department of Corrections, "Thomson Correctional Center is a thick-skinned prison built to house the state's most aggressive and violent inmates." The prison is currently vacant as the Illinois state government has yet to appropriate operating costs (estimated at $50 million with a $30 million payroll). Other empty prisons have been identified in Florida and Oregon.

Leasing correctional space from states with excess capacity is a fairly common practice that provides a win-win solution for taxpayers and state governments looking to control costs while furnishing humane conditions to inmates and protection to nearby residents. Many local, state, and federal authorities avail themselves of this option, thereby avoiding the trap of large, unpredictable expenditures frequently associated with new facilities. The safety of all hard-working North Carolinians, along with the responsible stewardship of the tax dollars they send to Raleigh, can be achieved through innovative approaches such as leasing correctional space.

We look forward to working with you on this important matter. Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or if we can provide additional details to you and your staff.

Sincerely, Kristina Rasmussen Government Affairs Manager

cc: Governor Mike Easley
Secretary Theodis Beck, North Carolina Department of Correction