JEFFERSON CITY - Two Missouri legislators said private prisons in Missouri have become good options.
Private prisons provide room for prisoners in areas that cannot handle them and economic activity for the community where the facility is located, Rep. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, said.
As of October, there is temporarily one private prison in operation. Previously there were two private prisons, one in Holden and one in Bethany, but now they are both under the same control called Brice Detention and Services. For the transition, Bethany shut down their operations for the time being.
Bethany City Administrator Jan Hagler said she hopes that the private prison in her city reopens because if the facility were to reopen, it would create over 80 jobs.
Hagler called her local prison, and others, good for local economies. With the prison operational, more business is done with local establishments that sell food and provide medical attention.
The company running the prison approached the city with a plan to create the prison with a fee-per-day for prisoners, under which the state or county the prisoner is transferred from is charged based on a daily fee, Hagler said. Sending prisoners to private prisons can be cheaper than the state run prison facilities, she added.
In Missouri it costs the state $16,456 a year or $45.09 a day to house a prisoner in a state institution, said Missouri Corrections Department spokeswoman Jacqueline Lapine.
The chairman of the Corrections and Public Institutions Committee, Rep. Mike McGhee, R-Odessa, said the benefits of private prisons do not just deal with the economic boost they can provide, but they also are "cleaner and safer than many local jails in smaller communities." He said a lot of counties have "old run-down prisons" and maybe prisoners should be moved from those to newer private prisons.
Another option, said Hagler, is with the U.S. Marshals Service, which has a program that houses federal prisoners in Bethany. The program is on hold because there isn't a surplus of federal prisoners. In Bethany a portion of the fee from this program's prisoners goes to the city.
While McGhee said he did not think private prisons were a growing trend, he said they may become a necessity, especially if legislation is passed in the future making new guidelines for state prisons, it may be a cheaper option to open a private one instead.
The Corrections Department does not foresee that in the future.
"We do not contract with any private jails and to not anticipate doing so in the future," Lapine said.
The most important problem with prisons right now, McGhee said, is the need for more vocational training in prison. He said too often prisoners leave without options for the future and the state needs to "change the rules so people can live after prison."
He said if private prisons can provide that kind of training to its inmates, maybe they are the better option.