North Carolina counties invest in more jails, ignoring potential conflicts of interest

In North Carolina, several counties are betting their futures on bigger jails, guided by consultants who stand to profit. The decisions are often based on dubious work by consultants who may then be hired to design the jails they recommend. And the counties often fail to weigh the long-term costs of putting their money into bigger jails instead dealing with the reasons more people are incarcerated.  In a series of stories for Carolina Public Press supported by a grant from the Fund, reporter Jordan Wilkie examined the potential conflicts of interest and the tricky math that can make these projects a bad deal for taxpayers. Wilkie found that few counties are committing resources to examining why they might need bigger jails, such as an increase in addiction. For others, a bigger jail can be an income generator, with the idea that they can recoup costs by housing inmates for other jurisdictions. But this math doesn’t always work out and involves substantial risk. Grassroots groups and incarceration experts point to ways individual counties and the state legislature can improve the system, leading to better outcomes.