The Massachusetts Industrial Finance Agency may soon issue $70 million in taxable bonds to finance a private prison in Plymouth County, an official at the agency said.
The deal would raise money for a private subsidiary of the finance agency to build a 1,100-inmate "pre-trial detention center" for the U.S. Marshal Service, according to Richard Skerry, general counsel for the finance agency.
He said the federal facility should open for business within 21 months, and Dillon, Read & Co. will probably underwrite the deal in early October.
Privatizing prisons has gained popularity across the country, according to incarceration industry experts. Roughly 35 prisons involving private ownership or operation have sprung up over the last ten years, said Anthony P. Travisono, executive director of the American Correctional Association.
For Massachusetts, the Plymouth County private prison would represent the first detention facility with private participation.
"Massachusetts is late in coming into the business," Mr. Travisono said, adding that unions may have barred prison privatization from Massachusetts so far.
"Private companies haven't been willing to get involved where unions are involved," he said.
Also, some municipal officials oppose turning over prison operations to the private sector which, they say, is more likely to cut corners or renege on agreements.
In one case, a private operator walked away from its contract in Key West, Fla.
"They had difficulty getting it started," Mr. Travisono said. "They just said, "We don't want to do this anymore.'"
That kind of risk will not factor into the Plymouth County prison, which will be operated by the county sheriff under an agreement with the federal courts.
"There's less risk when you don't give up the operation," Mr. Travisono said. "In this case, it's just private funding of a public building."