Prison Space Arbitrage

Virginia’s Department of Corrections has dreamed up a clever way to solve its financial problems: Take in 300 prisoners from Wyoming, charging roughly $85 per prisoner per day, while keeping state prisoners housed in local jail and paying only $14 per day. Pocket the profit of $71 per prisoner per day.

Three hundred prisoners adds up to real money — about $21,000 per day, or more than $7.6 million a year!

Virginia Beach Sheriff Paul J. Lanteigne doesn’t think it’s such a good deal. He’s on the receiving end, collecting only $14 per day for 67 inmates who are required by state law, he contends, to be housed in a state prison. Meanwhile, the jail’s population is 1,479, but the jail is rated for only 889 inmates, reports Frank Green with the Times-Dispatch. “The jail is severely overcrowded,” Lanteigne said in papers filed yesterday.

All told, there are 1,799 such “out-of-compliance” inmates in local and regional jails across the state, according to DOC. The Department hopes to import as many as 1,000 more inmates to offset more than $40 million in budget cuts over the next two years.

Tough call. I admire the ingenuity of the DOC for engaging what amounts to prisoner arbitrage. I’m wondering if someone could create a market that evens out the variations in supply, capacity and price between prison systems. I’ve got 200 New York prisoners here, costing $120 per day per head. South Carolina, your cost is $50 a head. I’ll pay you $90, New York saves $20 and I pocket $10. I’ll tell you what, for that price, I’ll throw in free prisoner transport!

On the other hand, there is the problem of prison overcrowding in Virginia Beach and other municipalities. While I don’t normally get all worked up over the living conditions of the criminal class, some local jails are atrocious. On this particular issue, call me conflicted.

(Image: Butch Cassidy, one of Wyoming’s more celebrated prison inmates.)

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  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Dammit Bacon,

    You sound like a slave auctioneer — another one of Richmond’s historic pastimes.

    Peter Galuszka

  2. Groveton Avatar

    Wasn’t the biggest escape of death row prisoners ever from a Virginia jail? Maybe Mechlenburg. As I recall, lax corrections officials made it all possible. Not sure that Virginia would be my first choice for outsourcing dangerous criminals. Maybe we can build something in Henrico County. I’ll be safe because mo escapee could possibly steal enough money to pay the tolls to NoVA.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    This is nothing new. DOC has played this game before. In 1992-2001 under the regieme of Director Ron Angelone (thank God he’s gone), they did the same thing so that the local jails were grossly overcrowded with prisoners sleeping on the floor.

    The State system, meanwhile, had vacancies during this period and rented out spaces to Connecticutt and New Mexico among others, placing some of their minimum and medium security prisoners in our “suppermax” (and more expensively constructed and operated)prisons like Red Onion and Wallens Ridge.

    It was a penny wise-pound foolish process since there was tremendous local expense and a number of lawsuits resulted from the medical treatment given or not given to the foreign prisoners. The process was designed to conceal the fact that the state had spent a lot of unnecessary money in building the “supermax” prisons.

    One wit called it the “ultimate in importing out of state trash.”

    The present situation clearly results from the budget shortfall.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    Jim, you should be ashamed to even think twice about this scam. This is just one of several ways that the “no tax” crowd in Richmond keeps their reputations intact by shoving their costs and their problems onto local taxpayers. I’m sure the localities are spending far more than $14 a day to house state inmates, and that comes from local property and sales taxes. I hope the judge slaps on punitive damages for political hypocrisy. (Those should be quintuple damages.)

    If the state paid for state stuff and the locality paid for local stuff it would be an eye opener for most people. And of course in a surprising number of places local taxes would actually go up or down dramatically.

  5. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Anonymous, Please note the final sentence in Green’s story: “Gordon Hickey, spokesman for Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, said yesterday that the governor supports the department’s actions but that Kaine also supports efforts to settle the matter.”

    Is Gov. Kaine part of the “anti-tax crowd”?

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    Maybe we can get Bear Stearns in on this. When they go broke speculating on prisoner futures, we can get the Fed to bail us out.

    That way we’ll save alot of money.


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