Prisons will be a billion-dollar growth industry in the West if trends in population growth and crime continue as expected, a western states' analyst group says.
WESTRENDS, a trend-tracking arm of the western office of the Council of State Governments, said Thursday the tremendous prison-building costs would draw money away from health, education and environmental budgets."It's a very sobering picture," WESTRENDS president Andy Grose of San Francisco said. He added that the combined prison-building costs for the 13 western states could run $1 billion a year throughout the 1990s.
"The West is seeing a greater population increase than anywhere else in the country," Grose said in a telephone interview. "And there is more violence and crime in general in the West because its largest population centers are going through rapid changes."
"Any place where society is changing rapidly, there are fewer norms of behavior, less roots and family ties," Grose added in describing factors contributing to the growing crime rates in the West.
Grose released a preliminary report showing that between 1980 and 1989 the West experienced the highest change of any U.S. region in sentenced inmates: 203 percent. That was 10 times the West's population growth.
The Northeast had a 155 percent increase in sentenced inmates, followed by the Midwest at 111 percent and the South at 75 percent.
In the same period, the West wound up with 95,000 more state prisoners, including 18,000 between 1988 and 1989. California accounted for 11,000 of the new prisoners in the one-year period, more than any other state.
Grose also said Nevada, Alaska and Arizona are among the top 10 states in incarceration rates. Nevada ranks first among the states, with 473 inmates per 100,000 population.
The report also shows the West had the highest violent crime rate in 1989, 754 such crimes per 100,000 inhabitants. The Northeast had 740, the South 675, and the Midwest 528.
Grose said that if the growth continues, the West will have to build four new 500-bed prisons per month for a year in order to keep up. Based on federal estimates of prison building costs, he said that translates into about $1 billion a year through the 1990s.
The increase in prison populations from 1988 to 1989 in the West includes: Colorado, 27 percent; Utah, 21 percent; Washington, 19 percent; Idaho, 17 percent; California, nearly 15 percent; Oregon, nearly 13 percent; Nevada, 10 percent; Arizona, nearly 10 percent; Wyoming, nearly 9 percent; Hawaii and New Mexico, just over 7 percent; Montana, 7 percent; and Alaska, 6 percent.