Biloxi Sun Herald
By STEWART SMITH
FOR THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
LOST GAP - It's the mid-1990s. The number of inmates in Mississippi's penal system is increasing, and state officials need to build more prisons - or contract with private companies to build more prisons. Meanwhile, Lauderdale County and Meridian officials are looking for ways to improve the local economy and create jobs.
It seemed like a good match. The state needed a place to build a prison and Lauderdale had a readily available work force and land that needed no rezoning.
When city and county officials began putting together a proposal, they hoped the new prison would provide an influx of jobs that would only increase over time.
The Wackenhut Corp., now The Geo Group Inc., won the contract to build and operate East Mississippi Correctional Facility in southwest Lauderdale County's Lost Gap community. The facility accepted its first prisoners in April 1999.
"To the best of my knowledge I have seen no impact that it has made to my business," said David Hamilton, owner of the Best Western in Meridian.
Hamilton also spoke of his personal experience in visiting prison inmates - an overnight stay or a shopping trip isn't usually on the agenda.
"When I went to go visit someone up at Parchman, we weren't going there to spend the night, it was going to be a day trip," Hamilton said.
"We got up early in the morning, went there and then came back. We might have gone to a fast-food restaurant or something, but we certainly weren't going to be spending any time hanging around there."