If your goal is to create jobs in Eastern Kentucky — and that’s a great goal — there are many better ways than by building yet another federal prison there.
Likewise, if your goal is to find the most taxpayer-friendly way to meet the needs of the federal prison system, there are far better alternatives than spending almost a half-billion dollars to build a high-security prison in Letcher County.
As desperately as Kentucky’s mountains need economic activity, there’s just no credible case to be made for the proposed federal prison. Nonetheless, it’s in the budget that the House approved in October over the opposition of the Justice Department, which has proposed cheaper alternatives at a time when the federal prison population is declining.
U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, long a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee and its immediate past chairman, is the only reason the proposal has made it this far.
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In response to the Justice Department’s objections, Rogers made an impassioned plea earlier this year that the prison is needed to replace lost coal jobs. But unemployed coal miners would not be in line for prison jobs. Most of the 300 employees would be people who already work for the federal prison system. Any economic benefits would flow to a few landowners who hope to sell their property to the Bureau of Prisons.
The 800-acre site — formerly surface mined and therefore subject to unpredictable stabilization costs — is in Roxana near the Lilley Cornett Woods, a rare old-growth forest owned by Eastern Kentucky University.
We agree with local opponents of the project. If the federal government is willing to spend $444 million in Eastern Kentucky, there are many and much better uses for it.