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Tue, Dec. 10

Governor denies delaying prison

PHOENIX — Gov. Janet Napolitano says she isn't stalling a planned private prison in Mohave County which lawmakers hoped would already be available to help relieve crowding in the corrections system.

"It's our intent to build that prison in Kingman," Napolitano said Friday. "There's no intent not to, but this is a problem that was generated by the private vender not being able to meet the terms of the contract that they had bid for."

The Legislature authorized the 1,400-bed prison in 2002, with the expectation that the prison could begin to accept inmates in early 2003.

However, delays in contracting, including a monthslong review to see whether a competing bidder received fair treatment, set the project back and the prison remains unbuilt, a recent briefing told lawmakers.

George Weisz, a Corrections Department official, said House Speaker Jake Flake, R-Snowflake, requested the review.

The state in May finally awarded a contract to Management & Training Corp. of Centerville, Utah, to build and operate the prison, which would go up on a site south of Kingman for $44 million.

However, MTC then told the state that it could not afford to move forward without a reworking of the project's financing because of changes in the bond market.

Napolitano has resisted efforts by Republican lawmakers to include more permanent beds at private prisons in an expansion plan now under development.

The Mohave County project, she said, "exemplifies why putting your prison future in the hands of private prison companies is and can be very problematic," she said.

Officials said the state and MTC now are trying to negotiate new terms, with possibilities including converting the project to a lease-purchase arrangement or having the state use federal prison dollars to pay for building the prison and pay MTC to operate it.

"We're just waiting for the state government to make a decision," MTC Marketing Director Mike Murphy said.

Despite denials by Napolitano and other administration officials, Republican lawmakers have been pointing fingers.

"There's definitely a need ... to prod the executive into action," said Sen. Bob Burns, R-Peoria.

"No more delays should be tolerated," state Sen. Linda Binder, R-Lake Havasu City, said during a Thursday hearing on a prison bill. "No more excuses."

Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson also expressed frustration during the hearing, citing "delaying tactics that have been going on for two years."

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