Abstract

In the last twenty-five years, the number of prisons in Central Appalachia has grown dramatically. Seeking to bring jobs and development to their communities, policymakers tend to view the industry as an economic lifeline. The passage of time allows us to critically evaluate the impacts of prison development in Central Appalachia, and here we analyze per capita income, poverty, and unemployment rate changes in counties that have opened a prison since 1989. We find little evidence to support the claim that prisons are engines of growth. Unemployment rates are lower in counties containing a prison, however, per capita income is also lower, while poverty rates are higher. Coupling these findings with the opportunity costs of adopting this strategy rather than others leads to the conclusion that policymakers would be well served using great caution before pursuing this development pathway.

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