Fake Prison Gets Real Tax Dollars

If you've ever wanted to feel like a criminal without breaking the law, you might get the chance in Lansing, Kansas.

Lansing is home of the state prison and around the corner from the famous Leavenworth penitentiary -- a town where more than one in four residents lives behind bars.

The mayor wants to build a prison museum complete with gallows and fake guard towers.

"As they come through here, there will actually be a gate there. As they go through it'll clang behind them," explains Mayor Ken Bernard as he shows a model of the museum.

You'd basically have to go to jail to see the prison museum in Kansas. It would be built on the grounds of the Lansing Correctional Facility. Supporters figure they'd have a built-in captive audience: the thousands who come to visit the inmates.

And thanks to Congresswoman Nancy Boyda of Kansas, your tax dollars are helping fund it.

She recently "earmarked" $100,000 for the prison museum.

An earmark is a grant of money without the normal public review. And in Washington, earmarks flow like water from a fountain. Congress funds thousands per year worth $20 billion.

Boyda sees the museum as a way to honor prison guards. But why should a penny of federal tax money be going to this prison museum in Kansas?

"I think the majority of Americans are going to say $100,000 to honor, to preserve the culture and memorialize the people that have given their lives. It's fine," Boyda said.

Ironically, Boyda had just complained publicly that real prisons are so poorly funded and staffed, they're dangerous. But she didn't earmark any money for them -- just the fake prison.


Attkisson Blogs: Your Tax Dollars Held Captive
Tim Phillips is a taxpayer advocate. He says the musem is buildign the museum on the backs of its residents.

"And their tax bill is probably $8,000, $9,000," he says. "It would take 10 of those taxpayers to fund this $100,000 earmark and that's wrong."

"A lot of people are wondering, is this really a legitimate expense of federal tax dollars when there are so many other needs?" asks Attkisson.

"I didn't think $100,000 was a lot of money," says Mayor Bernard.

Why is his community more deserving than any other?

"Because we're very progressive, we're moving forward, it's a fast growing community and we think we have a lot to offer," he said.

Even in Lansing, there's been a backlash.

"I hardly believe a prison museum here in Lansing is something that qualifies as a national necessity," said one resident.

It turns out the earmark was just the beginning. The mayor needs to raise $3 million more in private funds to actually build the Prison Museum.

"We've got a great project going if we can get it off the ground. Our people are working hard now to set up the funding," says Bernard.

For now, the prison museum is just a 3-D model. Money just isn't easy to come by, unless you ask the right member of Congress.