State to halt prison project, legislator believes

Kingman's state legislator predicted Friday that a private prison 17 miles southwest of the city will not be finished.

Republican Rep.

Joe Hart said he bases his belief upon what he and other legislators were told by Dora Schriro, the new director of the state Department of Corrections, during a recent meeting at the Capitol.

"The new director flat said there will be no new contracts awarded" for prisons, Hart said.

Jim Hunter, executive vice president of Dominion Venture Group L.L.C.

of Oklahoma, which owns the land upon which the prison is being built, recently told the Miner that four of 10 planned buildings at the company's 200-acre site are nearly complete.

This comes in spite of there being no signed contract between the state and Dominion.

Hunter said a contract was drawn up but never signed.

"There's so many dynamics going on in state government, the contract isn't finalized," he said.

Hunter said he agrees with changes that Schriro wants to make in the original contract.

Hunter said Dominion has been in negotiation with the state since Schriro began her new job in July.

"She's made some adjustments," said Hunter, noting the process has been disrupted because of Gov.

Janet Napolitano's call for a special session, which will begin Monday.

"We're at the mercy of the state's timing to get this done," said Hunter, who nonetheless is hopeful an agreement will be made and a contract signed by both parties.

The original plan was for the prison to house 450 DUI prisoners after the first phase of is complete.

Dominion would then have another eight months in which to build an additional six buildings to serve an additional 950 inmates, for a total inmate population of 1,400.

The prison would then be managed by a Utah company under contract with the Department of Corrections.

"I don't think this prison is going to fly," Hart said.

"I think there's going to be lawsuits.

The state will just say, 'Sue us.' They don't care.

"If they (Dominion) want to build on speculation, that's their business," said Hart, who added that he's no fan of privatizing the state's prisons.

"I don't think we need to lower our standards," he said.

"We've got a good quality of life here.

Let's support it.

Apache and Navajo (counties) might need that kind of development, but we don't need it.

The unemployment rate is less than 5 percent in Mohave County."

The prison would eventually bring 300 new jobs to the area.

Schriro told some 30 legislators the state is going to shut down facilities with 1,000 beds and then lease 1,400 private beds, Hart said.

This is because the state is having a problem getting qualified employees for prison jobs and because of a high turnover rate.

A call to the Department of Corrections for comment Friday was not returned.

Hart said he doesn't think the session will last more than three or four days.

"There's nothing to fight over," he said.

"There's no money."

The two main issues the Legislature is being asked to address are reforming Child Protective Services and the overcrowding in prisons.

"CPS and the Department of Corrections are just management problems," Hart said, noting he believes the session is being called "to feed their insatiable appetite for dollars."

He said the Lewis prison near Buckeye has 800 beds that have never been filled because there are not enough employees to staff them.

"The governor wants to do away with private prisons unless the contract has already been signed," he said.

Hart said he's "sort of read between the lines" and believes Napolitano is "bowing to labor unions."

In spite of the Legislature being constitutionally required to balance the budget each year, Hart said, the state is currently "in debt to the tune of $750 to $800 million."

Hart said he has talked to a number of legislators during the past few weeks.

Of the moderates and conservatives, Democrat and Republicans, whom Hart says he talked to, "Nobody supports additional funding for CPS or Corrections.

It's a waste of time.

Every issue we're talking about should be (handled) in regular session."

Hart noted that Napolitano has the authority to call a special session, but once the session has begun, control of it is entirely up to the Legislature, including when they "sine die," or finish.

Other items on the special session's agenda include revamping a law that requires local courts to pay a portion of the fines they collect to the state.

This will easily be changed, Hart said, along with a new law that requires persons who don't pay income tax to have $5 withheld from their paychecks.

This measure was an attempt by Sen.

Jack Harper, R-Glendale, to make illegal immigrants pay income tax but met stiff resistance from small businesses who had to collect it.

Another issue deals with a plan by the governor to have the state Workers Compensation Fund purchase buildings from the state to help balance the budget.

Representatives of the Workers Compensation Fund balked at this proposal during the last legislative session.