NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

An End to the Prison Inmate Shuffle?

December 20, 2001

In the 1990s, it became common for states with overflowing prison populations to ship some inmates to states that had a surplus of cells. But there is now evidence some state authorities are rethinking that policy and calling their prisoners home.

The reasons the trend is in the process of reversing include the leveling off of state inmate populations, the desire to keep state correctional dollars at home, transportation costs and the difficulty for states to monitor their prisoners in far-away locales.

  • As the nation's state prison headcount ballooned 75 percent -- to more than 1.2 million from 1990 through 2000 -- at least one-third of the states began their exports.
  • Wisconsin -- which had dispersed more prisoners than any other state -- now says it plans to bring all of them home.
  • Colorado has already taken back more than 1,400 inmates it had shipped to other states.
  • Other states, such as Alaska and Connecticut, are debating whether to follow suit.

Correctional officials say another factor motivating the trend is to provide inmates closer proximity to family and friends -- periodic visits with whom have been shown to have a positive effect on rehabilitation.

Pennsylvania kept inmates within its borders in the 1990s, but often sent them to opposite ends of the state in hopes of disrupting drug and gang ties. Now Pennsylvania prison administrators say they try to house convicts closer to their hometowns to make it easier for them to readjust to life outside of prison when they are released.

Source: Nicholas Kulish, "States that Exported Inmates in 1990s Have Second Thoughts Now," Wall Street Journal, December 20, 2001.

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