Oct. 22, 2008
Detention center opponents target county commissioners
By MARK WAITE
A crowd of more than 50 people, energized by a "60 Minutes" video blasting Corrections Corporation of America's operation of a private prison in Youngstown, Ohio, had finished two hours of heated rhetoric against the proposed federal detention center in Pahrump at the Hafen Elementary School multipurpose room Saturday afternoon.
It had escalated into an atmosphere of cries to vote all the incumbent politicians out of office when Nye County District 4 Commissioner Butch Borasky walked in.
"I just spent two and a half days with a couple of other folks in Eloy and Florence," he said of two communities in Arizona where CCA runs prisons. "We visited eight facilities. I talked to as many people as I could in those communities. I'll tell you right now, I didn't get one negative comment from anybody."
That comment drew boos from the crowd.
Former Nye County sheriff's candidate Ted Holmes remarked about his fear gang members and possible drug cartel members would be housed at the proposed center.
Holmes said he wouldn't have any concerns if the detention center was at Cold Creek, where the present Indian Springs state prison is located, just over Wheeler Pass from Pahrump. But he said with the proposed location on 2250 E. Mesquite Ave., "the quickest house is less than six minutes walking distance."
Holmes then remarked he was so mad he wanted to punch a politician about it.
Borasky then walked up to Holmes, where they stood nose-to-nose before Holmes backed down on his threat and Borasky walked out of the room.
It was probably the climax of a crescendo of angry comments directed at the federal detention center by people who complained they weren't aware of the project.
Judith Holmgren read transcripts from a public hearing on the detention center by the Office of the Federal Detention Trustee in June 2007 in which Borasky, commenting as a private citizen, said "I wholeheartedly support the idea of bringing the detention center here."
The 60 Minutes excerpt concerned a prison break in Youngstown that the mayor said could've been the country's largest prison break. Show co-host, the late Ed Bradley, announced hard-core inmates were transferred from Washington, D.C., into what was supposed to be a medium-security prison.
Frank Smith, of the anti-privatization Private Corrections Institute, who hosted the informational meeting, noted other prison breaks, including one in Oklahoma that involved two elderly women hostages, invoking the worst case nightmare. He told about prison riots, like one at the Crowley County Correctional Facility in Olney Springs, Colo.
Smith charged CCA would use out-of-town labor to build the facility, as evidenced by his conversation with roofers at a restaurant in Olney Springs, Colo., who admitted they had worked on a detention center in California City, Calif.
"No matter what the chamber of commerce may want to believe, they don't leave money in town, they don't leave a penny more than they have to," he said.
Smith said the presence of detention facilities, even where there are good paying jobs, chases away other industries and residents.
"They go to towns that are desperate, that are easily convinced they are going to be some kind of godsend, there's going to be money raining from the sky," Smith said.
Steve Holbo, a retired California correctional officer, said the majority of correctional officers initially will probably be imported from other states as a job promotion.
"You cannot open your facility with 240 green people trying to work at the facility. The probability of the fact is that the Pahrump area is only going to see possibly 10 correctional officers hired initially out of the valley during the first year of operation," Holbo said.
He said being this close to California could be a temptation for CCA to house some of its 5,000 inmates in that state in the Nevada Southern Detention Center.
Kenny Bent said he was a general engineering contractor for over 21 years, putting in treatment plants and pump stations. He claimed the project, which would use 130,000 gallons per day, would drop water levels in wells.
Pat Kerby said the development agreement should require CCA to dig wells deper, if it impacts the water supply.
"We need to pressure the county commission to alter this development agreement so it's more favorable to Pahrump and make the decision before the election," Kerby said.
An angry Butch Clendenen, who recently bought a home on nearby Kitty Hawk Drive, went a step further.
"You can vote in this election, and the incuments have to be voted out now. That's the only way this agreement isn't going to happen. Face it, they had 17 supposed meetings where they notified the public that nobody knew about," Clendenen said.
County commission candidate Harley Kulkin said the development agreement was spearheaded by outgoing County Manager Ron Williams behind closed doors.
"We need to push so that the public is part of this development agreement and then we need to come up with some ideas of how we can make this development agreement fair to protect a community, and then I believe CCA will back out of the agreement and go somewhere else," Kulkin said.
"They're only here for one reason, they want to house prisoners and the cheapest place to do business, and they found this is the most naive place and they'll get away with plenty here."
Town board candidate Mike Darby said he has a history in the construction industry as a heavy equipment operator.
"The agreements that I've read that they have put out there, I would love to have that agreement because it basically gives you a wide open contract to do anything and everything you want," Darby said.
Jeff Bobeck, who ran unsuccessfully for Nye County Commission District 1, said he's a flight instructor at Calvada Airpark, located near the detention center site.
Bobeck said he requested an opinion from the Federal Aviation Administration about including the private airport in the development agreement.
"If I were going to try to escape from this prison -- and we have learned it is possible -- I would be headed straight for there," Bobeck said. "Within 100 feet of each airplane is the owner with keys who knows how to fly it and many of them also have enough fuel to make it to Mexico."
Robert Smith, no relation to Frank Smith, asked for a recall "on all the corrupt politicians in this town."
Bent criticized an alleged e-mail from Commissioner Joni Eastley in which he quoted the commissioner as saying, "This is a done deal there's no turning back, there's nothing left but signing the development agreement."
"It could be easily stopped right there, right now," Bent said.
Robin Lloyd urged attendees to flood commissioners with e-mails, phone calls and letters. She urged them to sign a petition asking commissioners to reinstate the 9.5 mile minimum distance to correctional facilities in the county code.