By Sam Conner
The Arizona Department of Corrections held a public meeting in Winslow last Thursday to complete one of the required steps before it awards a contract for building and operation of a private prison. Department of Corrections Director Chuck Ryan noted that it was one of five public meetings being held in communities being considered for a private prison. He said that the department would evaluate the proposals and the public response, and award contracts as early as Aug. 31.
Ryan introduced representatives of LaSalle Corrections Company, which has submitted a plan and bid for building and operating a 1,000-bed male prison facility in Winslow.
Clay McConnell introduced other members of the LaSalle Company, which is essentially a family owned and operated business. He said that in 1997 a family member in the construction business had been asked by a sheriff in a Louisiana parish, where they are from, to build a jail for him. That jail was built and another sheriff asked them to build another one. Then they were asked to build a jail and finance it. That facility is still in operation. In 1998, they were asked to not only build another jail, but to operate it. This was, essentially, the beginning of LaSalle Corrections Company.
McConnell was a minister and said that he had 200 inmates at a Bible study in a jail where they managed the facility and majored in rehabilitation. He left the ministry and went back to the family business, which he saw as a possibly better ministry opportunity.
The Louisiana Department of Corrections called LaSalle after losing thousands of beds in prisons to the ravages of Hurricane Katrina. The firm built and operated facilities then in Louisiana, and partnered with a 60-day drug rehabilitation program, which has been very successful. McConnell said that the rehabilitation program run at LaSalle prisons in Louisiana has had much success in rehabilitating inmates, and having them return to society as contributing and successful citizens. He described a work release program in which some inmates have had work release time and had bank accounts of up to $10,000 when they returned to society, often with a job they worked and learned while in prison.
He said that he was excited about having the prison come to Winslow and looking for people here to hire, especially retired DOC personnel.
Also present representing LaSalle were Billy McConnell, Pat Temple, Ryan Horvath, Nathan Quarterman, Rodney Cooper, Sean Twomey, Sean King and Jim Brandt. They all represent different aspects of the company and most are noted for their considerable experience. For instance, Quarterman is a retired institutional director from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Clay McConnell said that Jim Brandt of McCarthy Construction had been working in Arizona for 32 years, and is currently working on the casino east of Flagstaff. He said that McCarthy is a community based company, and would hire local workers and subcontractors to a large degree.
He said that the prison would bring 120 construction jobs to build the facility and 130 permanent jobs. This would be a significant factor in the local economy. He noted that studies have been done that show Winslow well suited to staff and support the prison.
Winslow Mayor Robin Boyd stated that he considered LaSalle to be a quality business, and that Police Chief Steve Garnett had told him that there were very few problems in Winslow related to the presence of the state prison here. He said the city is looking forward to the prison coming here, and that he considers LaSalle as probably the best company among those seeking sites in the state.
Winslow City Manager Jim Ferguson said that the city has adequate or more than adequate infrastructure for the prison to come here. He noted that the city is continuing to improve, and that there were people in attendance to support LaSalle coming to Winslow from the neighboring towns of Snowflake and Taylor.
Clay McConnell interjected, “I personally believe in this project and know that some of our personnel will likely go to work with the Arizona Department of Corrections, just as we will probably hire some from there that have retired or left for other reasons.”
Navajo County District II Supervisor Jesse Thompson was the first speaker from the audience, and he thanked LaSalle and Ryan for coming. He said that he and the county support Winslow and the bringing of much needed jobs here. He said that he is proud of the workforce. The county has seen losses with the closure of the paper mill at Snowflake and problems at the Cholla Power Plant, which he hopes will be solved. He welcomed LaSalle to Winslow and Navajo County.
Winslow City Engineer Mark Woodson said that Winslow has done the work building the infrastructure and making improvements in many areas to prepare for the coming of the Pioneer Forest Products Plant, the casino near Flagstaff and LaSalle Corrections facility.
City Attorney Dale Patton said that Winslow is a great place to live and raise a family. He said the schools are good, and he hopes that the Department of Corrections will choose LaSalle.
The first speaker against the prison said that private prisons have problems, and challenged the decision makers to look into those.
Tess Kenna spoke of teaching classes at the state prison, where she said that then Warden Ryan said that rehabilitation was a major goal and that changing prisoners so that they will not return to prison was the project. She said that Winslow should be proud that LaSalle, which emphasizes rehabilitation, would want to come to there.
Lawrence Kenna simply said, “Thank you, LaSalle, for choosing Winslow. You are a class act.”
Todd Roth said that the state should select Winslow for the site of the prison as it has assets of superior transportation arteries. He cited the railroad, Interstate 40 and an all-weather airport.
Winslow Councilman Harold Soehner noted that Winslow’s main asset is its people. He said that it is important what we are building for Winslow and he hoped LaSalle would be part of it.
Steve Slaton spoke, apparently against the prison, saying that there could be problems with rentals and likely a need to hire more policemen.
Charles Crowhart, who is affiliated with Little Colorado Medical Center, said that the hospital has been making improvements, including a new emergency room and that he and most at that facility would like to see LaSalle prison come to Winslow.
Snowflake Councilman Tom Poscharsky said that Snowflake supports LaSalle and Winslow for the facility.
Taylor Town Manager Eric Duthie, representing the cities in Navajo and Apache counties and most entities therein, said that he had been authorized to speak in support of a prison in Winslow, noting that the entire northeast Arizona region needs LaSalle Corrections to come to Winslow.
The next two speakers could not be heard.
Marie LaMar was the last speaker, and noted that she was not for LaSalle nor was she against LaSalle. She said she is very interested in Winslow and sees some problems with a private prison here.
The vast majority of the fairly large crowd appeared to favor LaSalle Corrections being selected to come to Winslow, and showed that by applauding the speakers who spoke for that outcome. They were polite, but relatively quiet when there were speakers against the company coming.
Many waited around to speak to representatives of LaSalle, and those representatives spoke about the importance of rehabilitation. One said that he would like to see the company put itself out of business by rehabilitating prisoners so that all became good citizens and never returned to custody.
By Sam Conner