Bob Ortega of the Arizona Republic writes “Department of Corrections officials say they expect to make their final contract award or awards sometime after Sept. 16” in his article covering the public meeting held in Coolidge, Arizona council chambers. A crowd estimated to between 250 to 300 persons attended the meeting led by MTC corporate and their distinguished “consultant” Terry Stewart, a former Arizona corrections director. It was an obvious display of the politically correct former posse being back in town to bring a message to the citizens of Cool town that MTC can be trusted to be your neighbor and that regardless of what was said by those opponents present today, they are here to stay for the long run and partner up with the community just like they did with their neighbor Florence where private prisons are thriving from the fees collected from the state. Listening to Sheriff Paul Barbeu in a hurried up speech, he made it clear that Pinal County is good in the corrections and law enforcement business. He bragged about his recent jail accreditation as a certified jail and endorsed the plan to build a new prison in this area.
What Mr. Ortega didn’t write was the inference drawn at this meeting by those who know corrections from the inside. Present there exclusive within this meeting room was a group of people sitting in top state prison management positions, formerly known to have been members for the brand as a posse that ran Florence for decades and still maintains a firm control of the dynamics inside this prison town. This now defunct posse rode the saddle of former director Terry Stewart back in his own prison days and as it are all well-known acquaintances of him as former employees for the Circle A brand. The defunct posse, identify by its former leader, Mr. Stewart, was clearly identified as Charles Ryan, current director, Carson McWilliams, current regional director and two wardens from Marana and Florence respectively. Thus, the defunct posse, obvious involved in the decision making process, saddled up and are riding hard to promote the MTC brand just like they did in the past days. They were there to give support to the corporate entity that failed to perform in their terrible mishandling of Arizona State Prison Complex Kingman escape and made it obvious to those who knew them, they are in favor of building another prison in the Pinal County region.
The city’s unemployment rate was given to be at 20.4 percent at meeting. Present among the throng of blue shirts in support of more jobs, many were not thinking of the deep impact the contract with MTC could influence the town’s future as many were not even concerned about the financial arrangement made between the city and the contractor to build and fund the prison complex. They were only thinking short term impact with a promised revenue boost of a possible $ 2 million dollar infusion into the local city coffers.
Taking the time to give my personal condolences to the mother [Vivian Haas) of Gary Haas and his wife, victims of the Kingman escape and allegedly murdered in New Mexico by several of the escapees, I was moved by her comment to the posse and the community when she said “They were murdered because MTC could not do its job,”
Then as former posse co- leader Charles Ryan led the process of letting an announced 40 people talk in the order they signed up to speak, it was former posse member Terry Stewart that bailed out MTC when the question was posed how can they house 5,000 prisoners in Coolidge when the net growth of the ADOC prison was estimated to be 65 prisoners for 2010. His explanation had a mixed message. He stated the obvious telling the very orderly group that Arizona prisons are currently housing prisoners at over-capacity numbers. He suggested bringing these facilities down to their designed capacity would fill the beds of these new proposed prisons.
Doing the math on his explanation, it suggested a glimpse of an insider’s view of long term plans regarding prison growth and management of such complexes. More controversy came when someone asked who was funding the bonds to build the prison and challenged the need for growth in prison population, this speaker concluded that perhaps there would be a shift in state to private prison populations in the near future and empty out the state prisons in this transition. There was no response to that concern. Many ignoring this warning could not see the disastrous impact of state employees losing their jobs and diminishing the current regional economic contribution it has provided the county for the past several decades. This ideology is consistent with current political efforts to privatize state functions including prisons in Arizona. When it was all said and done, the posse left on a high note and mounted their state -owned steeds to ride out of town. Mr. Stewart, suspected to be the real posse leader, lagged behind a bit to consult with his current employer, MTC, and was one of the last to leave the building.
“Cool town” citizens have a hard decision to make but with the seemingly strong support for a new prison, the vision is clear and the possibilities are high Pinal County will add another prison to its list of employers. Picking up a brochure in the front lobby where a television set was placed to accommodate the overflow of the meeting, I read the overview and chuckled a bit when I read “pleasing landscaping and no noise or lighting impact to neighbors.” 400-800 jobs and an annual payroll of up to $ 26 million annually (full staffing and capacity).” The hardest line to swallow was their [MTC] promise to deliver more additional jobs due to the construction and the great benefit of local businesses benefitting from new prison in town. Unfortunately, looking at Florence as an example of such bragging, there are no new business growths inside this prison town region except restaurants and food chains that thrive on fast food and carry out for prison workers.
Handout – Proposed Coolidge correctional facility overview