Prison proposal for Goodyear draws fire
Geo Group Inc.'s plan to construct a private facility spurs opposition
August 11, 2011
Geo Group Inc.'s proposal to build a 2,000- to 5,000-bed private prison in Goodyear ran into fierce public opposition Wednesday, with much of the anger at a public hearing coming from residents who said the state has broken a promise made at the time the nearby Perryville state prison was built.
Geo tried to head off criticism, saying its prison would be built to far higher security standards than the state requires, with several extra layers of fencing and security devices and with more staff.
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.
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.
"I'm the guy who founded this company in 1984 . . . and I'm accountable to you," Zoley promised at the hearing.
But when he declined to answer a question about the ratio of correctional officers to prisoners, Dianne Post, the NAACP's Maricopa County representative, argued, "He says, 'I'm accountable to you.' How? He won't tell us his staff ratio. They're not accountable."
Other speakers alternated between those in construction - "We all need jobs, we need jobs in this area," said John Coffman - and those peppering the company with questions, criticizing its record and political donations, or arguing, as Goodyear resident Barb Julien said, "If this area had a Scottsdale ZIP code, we wouldn't be holding this meeting tonight."
Geo., based in Boca Raton, Fla., is a publicly traded company with about 78,000 beds in 116 corrections and treatment facilities in the U.S. and three other countries. It recently bought a company that uses ankle-bracelet tracking devices to monitor about 60,000 probationers and parolees.
Geo operates three prisons under contract with the Arizona Department of Corrections: Phoenix West, a minimum-custody prison that can hold 495 inmates; Florence West, which can hold 750 inmates; and the Central Arizona Correctional Facility, also in Florence, which can hold 1,280 sex offenders.
In addition to the Goodyear proposal, Geo is proposing an alternative plan to provide 2,000 or 3,000 beds in San Luis, southwest of Yuma.
Wednesday's hearing was the second of five being held this week and next over proposals by Geo, CCA, Management and Training Corp. and LaSalle Southwest Corrections. The hearings continue today in Winslow and next week in San Luis and Coolidge.