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Can We Trust Privately Owned Prisons?

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PAMLICO COUNTY — North Carolina's newest prison is designed to save taxpayers' money. It will be operated by a private company instead of the state. Private prisons can save government thousands of dollars, but critics wonder if they have the security necessary to keep everyone safe.

Just looking around the place, the new 500-bed Pamlico County facility looks just as one would expect any prison to look, but it's different. It's the first privately-run prison in the state.

The owner, Corrections Corporation of America, says it's as safe as any medium security prison, but because of different regulations, it takes less money to run.

"We have a purchasing difference than what the state does," said CCA spokesman Chris Bell. "We buy most of our items locally, most of our supplies locally, which can cut our cost. We can buy things from anyone."

While most of their 77 private prisons have worked without a hitch, their Ohio prison has been plagued with stabbings, escapes, and two murders. The company would not address that issue specifically, but did assure us that the Pamlico county facility is secure.

"The performance standards are regularly evaluated by Department of Corrections staff and are regularly reported by DOC staff," said CCA's James Ball. "In addition to that, if we don't do a good job, you can fire us."

The prison brings nearly 200 jobs and millions of dollars in revenue to rural Eastern North Carolina.

State officials say in spite of the recent Ohio escapes, CCA's record is satisfactory. If security becomes a problem, the state has the authority to remove the prisoners.

"We will have a monitor here that will have monitoring tools to insure that good business is being done and they're living up to requirements of their contract," said NC Prisons Director Dan Steineke.


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