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Sen. Nelson: West Valley is not a good choice for new prison

Having attended the public hearing by the Arizona Department of Corrections on the Perryville prison it is important for everyone to understand some of the history behind its present location and why it should not be expanded and furthermore if it should even remain in place at all.

ADOC is wrapping up a process to find a place to build several new private prisons in Arizona.

Depending on the selection, each prison would hold 1,000 to 5,000 inmates. There is a demand for these new beds, and each 5,000 bed prison will bring 1,000 construction jobs and more than 1,000 permanent jobs to the state.

Four companies are making bids. Corrections Corporation of America is proposing a 4,500 bed complex in Eloy. Geo Group is considering a 2,000-3,000 bed prison near Yuma, or up to 5,000 beds at Perryville. LaSalle Correctional Management wants to build a 1,000 bed unit in Winslow. Management & Training Corporation is considering a 3,000 bed prison near Yuma or a 3,000-5,000 bed complex in Coolidge.

ADOC held five public hearings around the state to talk with residents about the proposals. They have heard the public give opinions on the benefits to the economy and the concerns about safety.

One thing has become clear. The expansion should not happen at Perryville. West valley residents remember when the State broke a promise in the 1980s concerning Perryville, and they don’t trust the State with its promises at this time.

In 1980, the State was in the middle of a political battle and a lawsuit filed by the Litchfield Elementary School District over where to build a new prison, and how big that prison should be. To get a bill passed, lawmakers agreed to a limit of 1,000 beds for male inmates and four hundred beds for females. Over the objections of nearby residents, the Governor and the Legislature at the time made the decision to build it near I-10 and Cotton Lane.

Just four years later, legislators changed the law, and now 1,400 inmates could be housed, regardless of gender. More egregiously, in 1989, the Legislature ripped up the 1980 agreement, and removed any limits on the number of inmates housed at Perryville, thereby again thumbing their noses at the people of the west valley. The result? Four thousand five hundred inmates are housed at Perryville. Our residents have long memories, and they know an agreement with the state over prisons isn’t worth the paper it is printed on.

The good news is that nearly every other proposed site is being welcomed with open arms. In Winslow, residents and local leaders were literally begging for LaSalle to build its prison there. At the Yuma hearing, one of my Senate colleagues said it was “a no-brainer” to expand the prison in San Luis. Reports from Eloy say the CCA proposal there got near-unanimous support.

Arizona is going to have new prison facilities, and we are going to make sure ADOC demands the highest security standards, with the safety of neighborhoods in mind. There are some good options available. The west valley is not one of those options.

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