Originally Published: March 26, 2010 9 p.m.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Four of seven Town of Prescott Valley council members, including the mayor, have publicly opposed getting into the prison business. Meanwhile, attendance at all prison-related forums over the past several months is evidence that the citizens are speaking out, both in support of and opposition to a proposed prison.Corrections Corporation of America has said that Prescott Valley is off its list, a local real estate development firm has said it will continue to pursue a prison, and citizens on both sides wonder if anyone's listening.Bill Fain and his son, Brad, of the Fain Signature Group announced during the Town Council meeting Feb. 11 that they want to proceed with plans to annex and rezone land off Fain Road that CCA had considered for the prison site. The Fains said they would favor taking the issue to the ballot to let the voters - and not seven council members - decide whether to bring a private prison to the community.However, the election would take place only if the council were to approve the Fains' request. Voters seeking to overturn a council "yes" decision would need to launch a referendum drive, similar to what Wal-Mart opponents sought unsuccessfully in a March 2007 election to overturn rezoning of property off Lakeshore Drive and Glassford Hill Road.The Daily Courier profiled three regional towns with prisons - Blythe in California, and Florence and Kingman in Arizona - to survey life on the inside from the outside. The Courier and its sister newspapers in Blythe and Kingman undertook the project before the issue appeared to die in Prescott Valley.Courier reporter Ken Hedler joined local business people on a tour of a federal detention center that CCA operates in Florence. The tour took place Jan. 28, the same day three members of the council announced they would oppose proceeding with prison plans.Job creation in a dire economy emerges as the primary reason for supporting the location of a prison within or near a community.Investors say a private prison housing 5,000 inmates would create 885 direct jobs on site, and 425 indirect or induced jobs, according to a report Elliott D. Pollack & Co. prepared for the Prescott Valley Economic Development Foundation. Indirect jobs are jobs that a prison creates for businesses that provide goods and services, and employees who spend their money in turn create induced jobs.Pollack based its projections on jobs and other economic benefits on information that Corrections Corporation of America of America of Nashville, Tenn., supplied to the Scottsdale firm.Economic DevelopmentCCA operates four private prisons in Eloy and two in Florence and employs more than 2,500 people, according to spokeswoman Louise Grant.CCA is the largest private-sector employer in Pinal County, said Gayle Cooper, executive director of the Economic Development Group of Eloy. EDGE is a public-private partnership similar in practice to the Prescott Valley Economic Development Foundation.A CCA press release dated Sept. 18 indicated the company annually contributes an estimated $140 million in salaries and benefits, $4.5 million in property taxes and $8.5 million in utility payments in Pinal County.Heather Murphy, director of communications for Pinal County, said CCA paid a total of $4.7 million in real estate taxes for the 2008 and 2009 tax years. She said she obtained the information from the county Treasurer's Office.The company is growing as well, opening three prisons in the past five years within Eloy, City Manager Joseph Blanton said. He added inmates account for about 8,000 of the city's 19,000 residents.The influx of inmates into a community brings more state-shared revenues from sales and income taxes, said Jess Knudson, public information officer for the Town of Florence. He said inmates account for about 17,000 of the estimated 27,000 residents.Knudson said state-shared revenues account for 60 percent of Florence's general fund, with the money paying for services such as police protection, the library and senior center. The general fund is about $11 million a year.The estimated median household income in 2008 in Florence was $50,243 in 2008, up from $36,372 in 2000, according to www.City-Data.com.The estimated median household income in 2008 was $36,631 in Eloy, up from $26,518 in 2000.Prison employees also are positive for real estate sales, said Frank Barancik, president of the West Pinal Association of Realtors in Casa Grande. The association has about 300 members.Prison workers buy or rent homes in Florence, Coolidge, Eloy, Toltec and Arizona City, Barancik said.However, he said he could not provide specifics, saying, "We don't break out market segments that way. I am sure there are brokers in the area that target their marketing to that (prison employment) segment."CrimeCooper said, "Somebody asked me, 'Do you feel safe?'" She said she retorted, "I feel like you are safer living closer to CCA than a convenience store."Prison opponents say their presence in a community will increase crime.However, Florence Police Chief Robert Ingulli told visitors to the Central Arizona Detention Center Jan. 28, "We probably have one of the lowest crime rates in the state."He said only three prison escapes have occurred in Florence over the past nine years.News accounts document prison escapes as well as riots in Florence - and other locations.In September 2007, two convicted murderers serving time in CCA's Florence Correctional Center overcame a guard and then used ladders to slip over prison fences. Both inmates were on night cleaning duty when they escaped. Pinal County authorities captured one of the men on the same morning that he escaped.Florence Correctional Center also was the scene of a so-called Rice Riot in 2000 when 20 inmates from Hawaii smashed windows, computers, television sets, and food carts, injuring three guards. The inmates protested the way rice was cooked.Several incidents have occurred in Eloy as well.The private prisons place a lot of demands on the Eloy Police Department, said Amanda Villescaz, support service specialist and public information officer for the police department. Police have responded to assaults among inmates and drug incidents.Villescaz, who has worked for the department for 11 years, said police responses to incidents at CCA prisons are time-consuming because of the nature of the prison."We have to go through all the security," Villescaz said. "We can't just walk in. We have to get clearance through the gate."She said two riots and two escapes - one successful - have occurred at CCA prisons over the past six years.CCA's spokeswoman, Grant, said, "There are 2 million people incarcerated in our country today. And yes, incidents can and do occur in any prison across the country."However, she said CCA has "one of the safest security records" of any prison system in the country, and is lower than the national average for escapes, homicides and suicides.Compatibility with neighborhoodsGrant said, "We have 65 facilities in 19 states, and a good number of them are located in and around residential areas - close."She said every prison has a community relations committee consisting of civic leaders and other residents that meets quarterly.Prescott Valley Police Chief Jim Maxson declined to comment on the possibility of a prison being within a mile of subdivisions.Water and other infrastructureKnudson, the Florence public information officer, said the rule of thumb in his community is each inmate uses 125 gallons of water per day."It is a national standard that we have identified and we found to be true," Knudson said.CCA officials declined to speculate how much water a prison in Prescott Valley would use.However, CCA's outside engineer and the Prescott Valley foundation indicated water and sewer needs in e-mail exchanges with Neil Wadsworth, Prescott Valley utilities director, according to documents that the Courier obtained through a public records request.In an e-mail to Gary Marks, foundation executive director, dated April 14, 2009, Wadsworth estimated costs at $1.1 million for sewer infrastructure and $574,000 for water infrastructure.Prescott Valley Town Manager Larry Tarkowski proposed hiring a company to do a phone survey asking in part whether residents would favor offering incentives to CCA to help pay for infrastructure. His proposal died at the Jan. 21 work/study meeting of the council.Effects on traffic on Fain RoadFain Road has an average daily traffic of 15,000 vehicles per day, Prescott Valley Public Works Director Norm Davis said.Fain Road also is a county roadway, designed and built as a controlled-access highway, Yavapai County Public Works Director Phil Bourdon said. The only available additional access point is south of Lakeshore Drive, he said.Bourdon said a developer who wants to build a project adjacent to the road would need to do a traffic study for the county and mitigate increased traffic by widening the road or building an interchange at the access point.Medical needs outside prisonsCCA staffs around the clock at its prisons to provide routine medical care, Grant said. "If someone has a heart attack, they would immediately transfer to the local hospital," she said.Casa Grande Regional Medical Center treats inmates but does not have contracts with private prisons, said Karen Kerr-Osman, interim director for community relations."We don't have a separate unit where we put them," she said. "There is always a (prison) guard present. Usually, there is one inside the (patient's) room."Robbie Nicol, Kerr-Osman's counterpart at Yavapai Regional Medical Center, commented, "We do not have any information on what the health needs of the people there (in prisons) or what kind of treatment they need. We do not have a separate facility (for inmates)."Correctional officer payGrant declined to say how much correctional officers would earn because that information awaits response to the request for proposals from the Arizona Department of Corrections. The state agency is seeking the private sector to house a total of 5,000 inmates in existing prisons, new prisons or both.Chuck Keeton, warden at the Central Arizona Detention Center in Florence, said in January that the annual pay for correctional officers is in the $40,000 range.Prison lightingAny prison would need to comply with Prescott Valley's night-sky ordinance, Community Development Director Richard Parker said. "They cannot illuminate properties beyond their boundaries," he said.