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Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
4:44 AM Wed, Nov. 14th

Local leaders voice support for prison

PRESCOTT VALLEY - Former Town Councilman Tom Steele sought to rally opposition to the proposed private prison by urging people to attend the first regularly scheduled council meeting set for this coming Thursday.

However, town staff did not place the item on the agenda for the meeting.

"There is no action being contemplated by the town," Town Manager Larry Tarkowski said Thursday. He said people may speak out on the matter during the Call to the Public period at the end of the meeting.

Steele said he plans to attend and notify others at the meeting that the item will not be on the agenda.

"I have not decided yet" whether to speak, Steele said.

Steele promoted awareness of the meeting by posting it on the anti-prison website, www.noprisoninpv.com, and by circulating 500 fliers throughout the community. He added he prepared a package on private prisons for council members to review.

"They have to look at the negatives," he said.

Prison supporters have not organized a campaign yet to counter the opposition, Gary Marks, executive director of the Prescott Valley Economic Development Foundation, said. He said the campaign would challenge the "misinformation and attempts to mislead."

Opposition surfaced immediately after Marks issued a press release Dec. 17 announcing that an invitation-only group met with Brad Wiggins, senior director, site acquisition, for Corrections Corporation of America. Wiggins also spoke Wednesday at a luncheon of the Arizona Business League at Giovanni's Pizza & Pasta restaurant.

Opponents successfully fought similar plans in fall 2007 from Management & Training Corp. of Centerville, Utah. They have expressed concerns about higher crime, lower property values and the stigma about having a prison in their community.

Like MTC, CCA is considering land off Fain Road that the Fain family owns.

Responding to opposition to CCA's plans, Ron Fain, managing partner for the Fain Signature Group in Prescott Valley, said, "My only thoughts are that Fain is a community builder and we see a need for jobs in our community."

CCA, Marks and town officials acknowledge the next step is for the state to issue a request for proposals to recruit a company or companies to fill 5,000 prison beds.

"Last I heard, the RFP is supposed to go out at the end of January," state Rep. Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, said Thursday.

Tobin and state Sens. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, and Jack Harper, R-Surprise, said that they support the expansion of private prisons because they will save the state money.

"It's all about the money," Harper said. "We've got to make our budget balanced."

Harper, Pierce and Tobin said opposition to unions, which represent correctional officers in state prisons and tend to back Democratic candidates, is not why they support private prisons.

Arizona is a right-to-work state, and that status "has been attractive to us," said Louise Grant, vice president of communications at CCA's headquarters in Nashville, Tenn.

"We want to save taxpayer dollars, and we also offer very attractive salaries and benefits," Grant said.

Grant said CCA pays $500,000 to $1 million a year in property taxes to local jurisdictions where the company operates prisons. She was unaware Prescott Valley has no property tax.

"We have had such great experiences in the past 10 years in Pinal County, and we have six facilities in Pinal County with more than 2,500 employees," she said.

CCA is currently facing more than 10 lawsuits in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, according to court records. One of the plaintiffs, former employee Robert McDonald of Mesa, has a lawsuit in federal court alleging employment discrimination.

"They treat their employees poorly - just with supervisors not being qualified," said McDonald, a former correctional officer at CCA's Eloy Detention Center and Florence Correctional Center in Pinal County.

McDonald said CCA fired him from his job in Florence on July 4, 2007, two days after an inmate on suicide watch tried to stab him in the chest and arms with a sharp piece of plastic. He sustained scratches and a bruise.

His attorney, Tamra Facciola of Tempe, did not return calls to the Daily Courier.

Grant said, "We do not respond to individual litigation suits."

She said CCA has 17,000 employees in 19 states and the District of Columbia. She added Forbes Magazine named CCA the best-managed company of its kind in America in January 2007.