The U.S. incarceration rate has been on the decline for several years now. That's good. But now we have jails sitting empty all over the place. What do we do with these things?

The thoughts that immediately spring to mind, like "burn them down" or "throw them open to the homeless" or "use them to imprison those who prosecuted the War on Drugs for so long" all have their own drawbacks. Prisons are unique in that they cost a ton of money to build, but they're usually located way the hell out in the middle of nowhere, and they're not easily converted into something you'd want to spend time in. They are, perhaps, the worst possible real estate investment. Even dead malls and jaunty-roofed former Pizza Huts can usually find new, shabbier tenants. Prisons are just enormous, shiny boondoggles that serve as monuments to human misery. Not the easiest things to unload on the secondary market.

The Wall Street Journal has quite an interesting story on this phenomenon today. The only thing the story lacks is the magical resolution, where the problem is nicely wrapped up at the end. The problem is not wrapped up! Cities that built jails in anticipation of rising prison populations and instead found the prisoner pool shrinking are now casting around for how the hell to get rid of these things. Even the states that did manage to find buyers, the Journal says, only got back a fraction of what they spent to build the fucking things.

So, scattered around America we have various empty prisons, available cheap. What do we do with these things? I like the idea of using them for homeless shelters, but that would require some significant remodeling expenditures, because just ushering the homeless directly into prison cells is, perhaps, not all that gracious.

If only there were still enough roving ravers to make a prison rave club profitable.

Do you have any good ideas that are not bad jokes? Please share them.

[Photo: Flickr]