Director Melissa Wallace, FOP ADC Labor Council, received some disturbing news last week. By Thursday, November 19, 2009, she had participated in a Winslow City Council Zoning and Planning Hearing. The only questions allowed were, however, limited to planning and zoning.
The zoning hearing confirmed that a 26,000 bed new private prison was being built right next to ASPC Winslow. The new private prison will be just north of ASPC Winslow and south of the city of Winslow. Ground has already been broken to start construction, with an estimated opening of the first 5000 beds by 2012.
15,000 beds are earmarked for ICE, with the remainder hopefully taking advantage of Arizona’s ever increasing prison population. The Winslow airport has a runway sufficient to land jets used by the federal government to transport ICE and other federal inmates. Improvements to the airport may be the city of Winslow’s responsibility.
Wallace has serious reservations about just how such a large project had come so far in the development with little or no public knowledge. Apparently this has been in development for the past two years. The project is under the name Ruby Ridge, LLC and does not appear to be part of any of the large private prison corporations well known throughout the nation.
Director Wallace and Stephen Vandegrift, Labor Services of the FOP ADC Labor Council, met with Scott Smith, Director, Legislative Affairs for Governor Brewer, on Friday, November 20, 2009. Smith stated he and the Governor’s Office had no prior knowledge of this expansive private prison. Smith was concerned that a project of this size and scope would have had to have quite a few public hearing on the matter. The dates and notice for such public hearing will be reviewed for compliance with local and state laws.
Many questions remain.
• Impact on the aquifer.
This aquifer is utilized not only by local citizens of Winslow and the surrounding ranches, but also by both the Hopi and Navajo Nations. The private prison operation will have more than five acres of waste water treatment ponds.
• Impact on local infrastructure.
Infrastructure includes the potable water system, waste water treatment, local roads and highways as well as the local airport. Questions still remain on the city of Winslow’s area of financial responsibility. The 26,000 private beds will also mean a substantial increase in residential needs and the infrastructure to accommodate such expansion.
• Impact on the environment.
It remains unclear what, if any, type of environmental impact studies were concluded by the EPA or the state of Arizona.
• Emergency services.
Winslow is a small community and it is unclear what the proposed emergency response plans will encompass. Hospital availability and bed space, EMT’s and local police and fire departments would be stressed beyond capacity during any prison riot or medical quarantine.
The Ruby Ridge project hopes to keep wages for private prison guards approximately one dollar under ADC wages, however there are no benefits other than stock options for employees to purchase and put towards retirement. Sick leave, generous vacation leave, health and dental coverage as well as life insurance, short term and long term disability all make employment with the state of Arizona more attractive.
The concern for ADC employees as well as all state employees is the current fiscal problems facing Arizona. Facing a possible 15% reduction in force to help balance the states budget is an ever increasing possibility. Ruby Ridge LLC may be counting on that to provide trained prison staff in the near future.
Director Wallace represented the concerns of the FOP for Corrections at the local zoning and planning hearing. The FOP ADC Labor Council will continue its investigation into the lack of public hearings and the corporate financing for this private prison project. The FOP for Corrections moved quickly to address this project with the Governor’s Office and keep ADC Director Ryan informed. Wallace provided Director Ryan with copies of the projects schematics, infrastructure drawings, engineering plans and statistics.
Although other ADC employee organizations were aware of the project, representatives from AZCOPS, AZCPOA and ACA were absent at the zoning and planning public hearing. As our investigation evolves, we will keep our membership advised.