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Economy

The Economics of Prison Boomtowns

In many towns in the rural South, new prison construction represents critical jobs and growth. But not everyone wins.
In Forrest City, Arkansas, both white and black leaders in town supported the construction of a new prison. And the town did reap real economic benefits.
In Forrest City, Arkansas, both white and black leaders in town supported the construction of a new prison. And the town did reap real economic benefits. Danny Johnston/AP

Between 1970 and 2005, the number of prisons in the U.S. increased from around 500 to over 1,800, a boom fueled by a commensurate rise in incarceration rates. The country’s prison population climbed 700 percent during this time, which more closely reflected discriminatory criminal justice policies than crime rates.

How did these prisons shape the communities that hosted them? John Eason, a sociologist at Texas A&M University, explores that question in his new book Big House on the Prairie: Rise of the Rural Ghetto and Prison Proliferation.