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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Shipping Inmates Out of State

A recent article from The Marshall Project discusses the hardships that families go through as states are shipping parts of their inmate populations to other states in an attempt to alleviate overcrowding in their correctional facilities. The four states that currently engage in this practice are Hawaii, California, Vermont, and Arizona, and the U.S. Virgin Islands send their prisoners to U.S. states as well.

The portions of the inmate populations from these states that get shipped away end up in areas in Michigan, Arizona, the Mississippi Delta, Florida, Virginia, and Texas. According to the article, “often, the best-behaving prisoners — those with no disciplinary record, escape history or medical issues — are the most likely to be sent far from home,” usually ending up in “facilities run by for-profit companies such as Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group.”

This is an issue for families of the inmates who want to visit their loved ones, only to have to pay travel fees to the out-of-state facilities that are anywhere from $1000 and up (usually for those who are from Hawaii, at least).

The sign outside of a Corrections Corporation of America location. Inmates who are shipped out of state are often housed at CCA private prisons.

The sign outside of a Corrections Corporation of America location. Inmates who are shipped out of state are often housed at CCA private prisons.

This practice also has important ramifications for the facilities in the towns and cities to which these inmates are sent. The article states:

When the people of Lake County, Mich., the poorest county in that state, learned that their local prison might reopen to accept inmates from Vermont, many were thrilled. The state representative there and the executive director of Michigan Works, a jobs program, both sent letters to Vermont officials pleading for the contract to be signed.

Now that the facility has opened for business, Lake County Commissioner Dan Sloan said unemployment has plummeted from double digits to about 7 percent in less than a year. “We’re seeing more use of our facilities, gas stations, retail, everything,” he said.

In Sayre, Okla., where California sent hundreds of inmates until last year, City Manager Guy Hylton said that having prisoners from out of state “was a miracle for a town like ours, there’s no other way to put it. Commissary purchases were one of our largest sources of sales tax, and the utilities that the prison paid for were like…having a whole other city here in our city.”

While this practice has rejuvenated the economies of several of the towns and cities where these inmates are now being shipped, this has not been the case across the board. The article discusses a specific example at a prison in Mississippi, stating that “for those living in the Delta’s poverty, the prison has been a false promise. ‘That prison should be to the Delta region what Toyota is to North Mississippi: a big economic deal,’ said Johnny B. Thomas, the mayor of Glendora, a nearby town. ‘But the corporation is taking all the proceeds while our children’s schools are falling down.'”

There are currently over 7,200 inmates that are sent to correctional facilities outside of their states, but a few other states are also considering adopting this practice (Washington state and North Dakota, to name two), so this number could easily rise in the coming months. States engage in this practice because it essentially “solves” two problems at the same time: shipping inmates out of state helps alleviate overcrowded prisons in-state and it is also less expensive.

The article goes on to break down the differences in cost between sending an inmate out of state versus housing them in a facility in state:

Hawaii pays CCA about $70 a day to house each inmate at Saguaro, compared with an average of $140 a day for an inmate at any of the four prisons back home. In Vermont, an out-of-state prison bed costs about $62 per day; in-state, the price tag is $162. For the U.S. Virgin islands, the choice is between as little as $67 on the mainland, versus $150 on the islands. (California’s complicated budget picture makes it more difficult to make a similar comparison.)

Even though states are saving money by engaging in this practice, it is the families of inmates who are shipped out of state that are paying the consequences.

To read the full article, entitled “The Prison Visit That Cost My Family $2370,” click here.

The featured photo for this article is of the town of Eloy, Arizona, where Saguaro Correctional Center is located. Saguaro is where many of Hawaii’s inmates who are shipped out of state are housed. Photo taken by Raquel Baranow in 2009.