Stopping the Transfer of West Virginia Inmates to Private Prisons

West Virginia legislators are currently faced with deciding if the state should ship prisoners across state lines to for-profit private prisons. To do so would not only twice punish incarcerated West Virginians and their families, it would also represent an irresponsible use of taxpayer money.
This week, a coalition of 31 national, state and local faith, civil rights, criminal justice reform, community and labor organizations sent a letter to West Virginia state leaders urging them to oppose this ill-advised proposal. The letter cited a November report released by Grassroots Leadership titled “Locked Up and Shipped Away: Interstate Prisoner Transfer and the Private Prison Industry.” The report examined the practice of shipping incarcerated people across state lines and found that doing so impedes prisoner rehabilitation by diminishing prisoners’ ties to family and community.
“It’s clear that shipping prisoners out-of-state is unsustainable and hurts families and communities,” said Holly Kirby, author of the report and an 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.”
Not only is this practice both cruel and costly, it is also prohibited by West Virginia’s state constitution. Inmates would be waiving their right not to be banished to another state, a waiver which is often forced upon inmates who are unaware that they have any choice at all. 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.
In the Public Interest, the nation’s leading comprehensive resource center on privatization and responsible contracting, believes West Virginia has other options at its disposal to address prison overcrowding while better serving the state. Officials should take these proposals seriously and avoid the significant costs, both to the state and those affected, of shipping prisoners away.
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– Donald Cohen, Executive Director for In the Public Interest