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No One Knows What to Do with All These Empty U.S. Prisons

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U.S. incarceration rates have been declining for the last few years. One unanticipated consequence of this very happy development is an excess of empty prisons that no one wants to buy.

"There's a prisoner shortage," the city manager of Littlefield, Texas, tells the Wall Street Journal, describing what could also be called a free-person surplus. Littlefield has $8M in outstanding debt on a prison that has been empty since 2009. Oregon's never-opened Wapato jail, which broke ground in the '90s, when rising crime was projected for the area, costs more than $300K a year to maintain. Multnomah County has been trying to sell the facility for years, but has seen little interest from private developers.

Some prisons with OK locations have been finding buyers, often for a fraction of what they cost to build. Staten Island's Arthur Kill Correctional Facility, for example, was bought earlier this year for $7M, and is getting turned into a movie studio. Municipalities with rural facilities are having a much harder time of it.

Would that they all could become chic hotels. Anyone want a hard-to-reach vestige of the halcyon days of our prison industrial complex?

UPDATE: Gawker has some legitimately good ideas for prison reuse.

· Cities Look for Ways to Get Free of Empty Jails [WSJ]