August 19, 2011
Scandal involving two private prison companies seeking a contract to build and operate a new complex near San Luis followed them to Yuma County.
The two companies, GEO Group and Management and Training Corp. (MTC), are competing for Arizona Department of Corrections (DOC) monies provided by the Arizona Legislature to build up to 5,000 new private prison beds.
DOC is considering five sites in Eloy, Coolidge, San Luis, Winslow and Goodyear as possible prison locations, and was in Yuma this week to hear public comment.
If awarded a contract, GEO proposes building a new prison with 2,000 or 3,000 beds in San Luis, while MTC proposes a 3,000-bed prison.
Meeting attendee Vivian Haas warned Yuma County residents against allowing MTC to build the prison. Her son, Gary Haas, and his wife, Linda, were allegedly murdered in August 2010 in New Mexico by two escaped prisoners being housed at an MTC prison in Kingman, Ariz.: Tracy Province and John McCluskey.
“I've been through a lot of painful times in 81 years, even surviving the terrible tornado that hit Joplin recently, but nothing compares to the pain of having my son and his wife, Gary and Linda Haas, brutally murdered because MTC couldn't do its job of keeping criminals locked up.”
According the Zachar Law Firm in Phoenix, the prisoners were able to escape due to extensive and egregious security errors, allowing them to completely avoid detection by prison security.
“I want to prevent anyone else from suffering the same type of pain,” Vivian Haas said tearfully. “I do not want to reward MTC's failure to do its job by giving it another prison to manage.”
In response, Issa Arnita, MTC director of corporate communications, said the company has learned from the deadly error. “Well, obviously what happened at Kingman is very unfortunate, but you learn from that. Mistakes were made — we took full responsibility for it, but over the process of working with (DOC) over the last several months, MTC has been very cooperative.”
GEO Group, the second-largest private prison company in the country, is currently a defendant in a federal class-action lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union for violations at its juvenile detention center in Walnut Grove, Miss. The lawsuit contends the prison's management caused a culture of violence and exploitation by selling drugs inside the facility and entering into sexual relationships with the inmates.
Pablo Paez, GEO vice president of corporate relations, said the alleged crimes would have taken place before GEO bought the prison from Cornell, a private corrections company, on Aug. 12, 2010.
Another critic of GEO and MTC was San Luis resident James Beecher. “I have no issue with a prison that is run by the Arizona Department of Corrections, but to build a private facility of this nature — I don't think that is what's best for San Luis.”
However, proponents of a new prison in San Luis tout the jobs they believe it will create, both in the construction phase and in the day-to-day functions of running it.
“To me this is a no-brainer,” said state Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma. “We have an opportunity to bring 350 to 750 jobs to rural Arizona and we need jobs. I would certainly like to see (DOC) strongly consider Yuma. Just to point out, we do have a Criminal as our mascot for our high school.”
Arnita said the addition of a prison is just what an ailing Yuma County economy, with unemployment hovering at about 30 percent, needs.
“The idea is to support the local community and work in the community. You want local people to come and work for you because they live here and can benefit from it. We are talking 500 jobs for a facility with 3,000 beds, and that is quite a few jobs for an area like this.”
Arnita said if MTC receives the contract, “Our architecture firm and the contractor (will) hold a job fair and invite local folks to come in and submit a resume, talk about their skills and show their certifications. If they have the skills and manpower to be able to do the work, we hire them locally.”