Federal prison plan axed, lack of need cited

March 21, 2002|By DARREN SIMON

Staff Writer

A project to build privately owned and operated prisons that would house federal inmates in California and Arizona has been canceled by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The Imperial Valley was under consideration as a site for one such prison.

Imperial County Sheriff Harold Carter said this morning it is disappointing to hear the project has been canceled. He said if such a prison had been built here it would have meant 300 jobs and a new revenue stream for the county.

The FBP had been seeking proposals from companies that would build and operate prisons for up to 4,500 low-security, male, criminal undocumented immigrants.


One such company, Florida-based Correctional Services Corp., proposed building three prisons — one in the Imperial Valley, a second in Orange Cove and a third in Safford, Ariz. Carter said the Imperial Valley facility would have housed 1,500 federal prisoners.

Carter said the last information he received before learning about the project cancellation was that the Bureau of Prisons was going to be visiting the Imperial Valley this month.

Traci Billingsley, a spokeswoman for the FBP based in Washington, D.C., said the private prison project was no longer deemed necessary.

She said new federal prisoner population projections indicate a "reduced rate of growth," which means there is no longer a need for more privately owned and operated facilities. Billingsley said the projections are based on a number of issues, from prosecution of criminals to changes in federal laws.

Carter said he has seen a decrease in the number of federal prisoners being detained in the county jail. The U.S. Marshal's Service has contracted with the county to house its overflow prisoners.

However, Carter said there has not been much of an overflow since Sept. 11 as security measures along the border have increased, which could be causing a reduction in illegal activity along the border.

Billingsley said she could not speculate on any impact the events of Sept. 11 have had on federal inmate populations.

Along with increased security, Carter said two privately owned federal prisons opened in the San Diego area more than a year ago and the Marshal's Service is housing many inmates there.

Carter said the reduction in federal inmates in the county jail has led to a $2 million loss in revenue for the county that could have been made up through the opening of such a prison here.

County Supervisor Wally Leimgruber said he was disappointed to learn the private prison project had been canceled.

"I know this facility would have provided good-paying jobs and I always like to see economic opportunities to be made available to Imperial County," he said.

Like Carter, Leimgruber said the added security along the border has had an effect, adding the number of people coming across the border — legally or illegally — has reduced.

Supervisor Joe Maruca said, "It's an economic loss for the county."

He said the county was looking at the prison as providing a windfall of revenue in which the county would not have to put up funding to make it a reality.

"It's an unfortunate loss of opportunity," Maruca said, adding the county will continue to look toward other economic development projects.

El Centro Mayor Larry Grogan said the Imperial Valley has to try to take advantage of such state or federal projects.

He said when state or federal governments put out requests for proposals for projects that could represent economic development opportunities for the Valley, the county needs to respond.

"We have to be aggressive and go after these things," Grogran said. "We don't have the luxury of picking and choosing."

>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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