Prisons as “Economic Development” Tools

Rarely do opinion pieces get it as wrong as this one which appeared in the ABQ Journal on Monday. Essentially, the folks at the CCA-New Mexico Women’s Correctional Facility argued that because of the facility’s contributions to this community, which the writer notes include “employing almost 150 people and paying about $1 million in property taxes.” The ultimate point of the piece is to argue that the facility should not be closed and that Governor Richardson and the Legislature should preserve the facility.

While I would not contradict that the prison contributes to the local economy or even that the prison, one of New Mexico’s highly-efficient, privatized facilities is not cost-effective, the reasoning outlined in the piece simply doesn’t make sense.

Here are some simple arguments on the matter:

1) the money used to run the facility is not created out of thin air, it comes from tax dollars. Those are tax dollars that could be used in other ways were they left in peoples’ pockets;
2) If the facility is necessary to house violent criminals, then keep it open. In fact, keeping it open and protecting New Mexicans from violent criminals is one of the most basic functions of government. Other areas of the budget must be cut or eliminated immediately if this prison is necessary;
3) The Rio Grande Foundation has come up with several policy ideas that will make New Mexicans safer and reduce costs. Perhaps our friends in the prison system could implement dome of the ideas contained in this article.