Understandably, Goodyear, Arizona resident Barb Julien is frustrated.
Boca Raton, Florida based Geo Group is looking to build a new private prison complex in this expansive suburbia of the Phoenix metro region. Geo Group is aiming to build a 2,000 - 5,000 bed prison in Goodyear, a town that already has one state-run prison with 3,500 inmates. Half an hour down the road in Buckeye, Arizona, another state-run prison has 5,000 inmates.
Just last year, escapees from a private prison in Mohave County (operated by Management & Training Corp) led to a nationwide manhunt that claimed the lives of an Oklahoma couple- Gary and Linda Haas.
People like Barb, who already have to deal with the back-of-the-mind worries involved with living near two prison complexes holding violent offenders, are worried. It just might happen here.
Goodyear, Arizona is a suburb of the Phoenix metro area. About 65,000 residentscall it home, and the median household income is $57,000 - higher than the Arizona average. If the connections wasn't more clear, Goodyear is named after the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., which purchased a huge plot of land after the Great War to cultivate cotton for tires (wiki). Over 90% of Goodyear is open land available for development.
With so much land open for development, and land in Arizona going at fire-sale prices anyway, it made sense that Geo Group would look at Goodyear for its next profit prison- er, private prison. After all, it paid good money to buy a friendly Governorand write the legislation it needed. (NOTE: Geo Group says it is no longer involved in ALEC)
Indeed, Geo CEO came prepared with the meat needed for the job-strapped Arizona economy:
Company CEO George Zoley also stressed the economic benefits of adding up to 1,000 construction jobs and up to 1,100 permanent jobs if the largest alternative were selected.
"I'm the guy who founded this company in 1984 . . . and I'm accountable to you," Zoley promised at the hearing.
What happened next though, was almost unexpected- as neighbor to the north Litchfield Park Mayor Tom Schoaf fought back:
But despite giving a far more detailed presentation than rival bidder Corrections Corp. of America provided at a hearing in Eloy one night before, Geo Group ran into a buzz saw.
Litchfield Park Mayor Thomas Schoaf, in a statement read by City Manager Darryl Crossman, called the proposal "a slap in the face to our residents," a direct threat to the public safety of the area "and a threat to the public welfare of our communities."
Schoaf, in an argument echoed by others, said that when the state built the Perryville prison in 1980, the Legislature overcame local opposition by promising to limit the facility to 1,400 minimum-security women prisoners.
But by 1989, the state began sending male, higher-security inmates there. Perryville now houses just under 3,500 inmates.
Schoaf called a further prison expansion preposterous.
The opposition to these prisons seems to have stemmed from the continued- Yes, continued - negligence and lack of oversight of Arizona's private prisons. Even after the Kingman escape, the private prison industry didn't get around to fixing the problems that lead to the murder of Gary and Linda Haas. After the July 30, 2010 escape, it took until March 2011 before the issues were "substantially" addressed.
Read more about that in this article by Arizona Republic writer Bob Ortega.
In perhaps the most responsible reporting to date, The Arizona Republic has dedicated an immense amount of effort to the private prison issue. The writer, Bob Ortega, has gone after this issue with vigor.
Arizona to expand private prisons - gives an overview of the legislature's initiative to not just shield the Department of Corrections from cuts, but actually add to its budget to build more prisons. It also outlines the major bidders - and their dismal record at prison security.
Geo Group itself is under investigation for its record of prison management. Summary: filthy conditions unfit for animals, gross negligence in security, and illegal bidding and construction practices.
Arizona prison oversight lacking for private prisons - Details how the prison operators have hamstrung regulatory oversight for the Arizona Department of Corrections, and extract as much money as they can out of the system via lawsuit and capturing regulators and overseers.
In closing, we come back to Ms. Julien's quote. "If this area had a Scottsdale ZIP code, we wouldn't be holding this meeting tonight."
Truer words are seldom ever spoken.