As you've probably read, California just announced that, for the first time, the state will send inmates to be housed in private prisons in other states. Exporting those prisoners -- right now, it'll be about 2,200 -- will take some pressure off California's prison system, which is so stressed that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called it a state of emergency earlier this year.
But exporting prisoners is dicey, as I learned while reporting on an article for Governing last year. That story focused on private prisons, but many of the challenges are the same.
The biggest difficulty is oversight: When a state is shipping inmates to a private facility in another state (as California is), how can it ensure that the prisoners will be properly managed?
Other big challenges revolve around inmates' families and the prisoners' connection to the outside world. I came across this AP story from a few years ago, in which a couple of critics of moving prisoners out-of-state make two good points:
"Kids are great motivators for parents in prison to get their act together," Brady said. "You take away the possibility of kids' visits and it's a self-fulfilling prophecy -- 'See, these people can't be rehabilitated."'
"Current progressive corrections thinking is all about re-entry" into society, Gerhardstein said. "Wouldn't it be easier to re-enter from across the street than from across the country?"
It's easy to say that the prisoners brought their situation upon themselves -- If they can't visit their children, they have only themselves to blame. But the truth is that exporting prisoners to other states can seriously impede a state's efforts to monitor and rehabilitate inmates.
In that sense, California's recent plan isn't a solution. It's just the beginning of a new set of problems.