'Empty' Prisons Dotting the USA

After reading the recent story about a "correctional officer" intimidating a network news reporter for accidentally filming an empty prison at Wilton, NY, I googled "empty prison."

As it turns out, there are several around the USA.

Coalinga, CA has an empty facility on 19 acres that once housed 570 state inmates, in a state that claims that its prisons are overcrowded.  (CA has a program for early release of nonviolent offenders to alleviate "overcrowding" while not allowing transfers to less crowded facilities out of state).  The 1,600-capacity federal facility at Thompson, IL has received $53 million to “renovate, reopen and staff” but is still empty.  Brush, CO has one that’s been empty since 2010.  Bayview Correctional Center in Chelsea, New York City is said to be available for redevelopment, but it’s still empty.

Overcrowding is not the trend.  Crime rates are down, and prisoner populations are down.  Those are the reasons cited by New York officials for their plan to close four prisons.  What seems odd is that the buildings will not be sold or redeveloped – merely “closed,” to save money on staffing.  So more empty prisons.

Why do these facilities exist if they aren’t needed?  Apparently, some were built to funnel money to politically connected contractors, under the oversold theory that "privatized" prisons are more cost-effective than government-run ones.  That may explain the several empty prisons in Texas. 

Colorado is one of several states using private prison contractors that end up paying for empty beds in prisons when they fail to fill the inmate quota specified by the contract.  So more empty space in prisons.

How could empty prison space be put to better use?  When holding centers for illegal aliens overflow, why doesn’t ICE send detainees to empty prisons instead of releasing them?  Seeing that they released 68,000 illegal alien prisoners with criminal records in 2013, under "prosecutorial discretion," we can guess the answer to that one: they have no intent of enforcing the law.  Otherwise, they would use the "humanitarian crisis" excuse to overcome any regulatory obstacles.

Going back to the incident at Wilton, NY, the inappropriate secrecy begs for scrutiny.  The reporter merely allowed the prison to be part of the background in a video about a historic site.  He wasn’t trying to get inside; he wasn’t even looking in through the fence.  The prison there, despite being "empty," is staffed by a private security firm employing seventy-six people.  Why?  Even a large building can’t need that many security guards if it’s really empty.  Why was the reporter questioned by a "correctional officer" if there aren’t any prisoners on site?

I’m not alleging "FEMA camp," "CIA prison," "NSA spy nest," or whatnot.  I’m just saying that an "empty" taxpayer-funded facility, particularly one with armed guards, begs for further investigation.  Most of the news stories on this subject focus on the loss of jobs or reimbursements to local government when prisons close or fail to be used.  Surely that’s not the whole story.  Reporters on the ground in NY should demand a tour of the facility and snoop around.