31 West Virginia and National Groups Send Letter to Oppose Shipping West Virginia Prisoners Out-of-State to a Private, For-Profit Prison

January 7, 2014

For Immediate Release:
 
(Charleston, WV) - A letter signed by 31 national, state, and local faith, civil rights, criminal justice reform, community, and labor organizations was delivered today to state leaders in West Virginia expressing opposition to shipping prisoners across state lines to for-profit private prisons. Letter signatories believe there are cost effective, common sense alternatives to this proposal that will keep West Virginians safe, represent a better use of taxpayer money, and don't twice punish incarcerated West Virginians along with their families.
 
The letter cites a national report released in November, which found that shipping prisoners across state lines impedes prisoner rehabilitation by diminishing prisoners’ ties to family and community. Additionally, the report highlights that in the four states that currently have prisoners in out-of-state private prisons, what was initially touted as a “temporary solution” to overcrowding has now become a long-term practice.
 
“It’s clear that shipping prisoners out-of-state is unsustainable and hurts families and communities,” said Holly Kirby, author of the report and organizer at Grassroots Leadership. “West Virginia should avoid joining the ranks of states that ship prisoners away, slapping a costly band-aid on a problem that needs real solutions.”
 
Additionally, the letter highlights West Virginia’s state constitution, which prohibits the involuntary shipment of prisoners across state lines. According to Sarah Rogers, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of West Virginia, “An inmate’s waiver of the constitutional right against banishment is not voluntary when the inmate must waive that right in order to receive basic rehabilitative services and humane treatment in his or her home state.” The letter’s signatories argued against requiring prisoners to forego one constitutional right to enjoy another. 
 
The letter also warns that contracting with for-profit prisons will prove costly for West Virginia taxpayers. As Rick Wilson of American Friends Service Committee WV Economic Justice Project stated, “There are better ways to address prison overcrowding in West Virginia at a lesser cost both to the state and those affected.”
 
“Government run correctional institutions have better trained, more qualified employees who are dedicated to protecting the public and rehabilitating inmates," said Elaine Harris, International Representative of the West Virginia Communications Workers of America. "West Virginia would be entering dangerous territory by involving a private corporation with a profit motive into our criminal justice and incarceration system.”
 
Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the private prison company that would house West Virginia prisoners out-of-state, has a record littered with high-profile accounts of abuse, misconduct, and neglect, subjecting it to numerous protracted lawsuits and state sanctions. 
 
Alyson Clements, Outreach Director for the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, agreed with Wilson and said, "At a time when we are cutting vital programs for children and families, the last thing we should be doing is putting money into inefficient and ineffective private prisons."
 
Finally, the letter argues that West Virginia has other options at its disposal that will better serve the needs of the state. John Lopez, chief of operations for the state Regional Jail Authority (RJA), testified in December before Legislative Oversight Committee on Regional Jails and Corrections that the Regional Jail Authority could addressits most urgent problem – parole applications being held up due to prisoners being unable to access necessary programming – by expanding programming in the jails to allow prisoners to become more quickly eligible for parole by hiring one or two counselors at each of the state’s 10 regional jails.
 
Signatories of the letter urging West Virginia officials not to move forward with plans to move up to 400 prisoners to an out-of-state private prison include American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, CURE (Citizens Unitedfor Rehabilitation of Errants) - West Virginia, WV Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, Catholic Committee of Appalachia (CCA), AFSCME, Grassroots Leadership, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and Human Rights Defense Center. 
 
 
Contact: 
Sarah Rogers, ACLU of West Virginia, 304-342-9246;
Holly Kirby, Grassroots Leadership, 512-499-8111