KINGMAN - The GEO Group expects to reach the 1,400-bed inmate limit at the Hualapai Unit by the end of March as it transitions from general population medium-security inmates to sex offenders in the same security class.
The news has sparked a couple of concerns in the communities of Kingman and Golden Valley, where Arizona State Prison-Kingman is located.
That sex offenders who finish their sentences with no home to go to would be released in the Kingman and Golden Valley areas and might decide to stay.
That won't happen, according to DOC spokesman Andrew Wilder. "As the release date nears for an inmate who is housed at the Hualapai Unit, they will be transported to a (DOC) state facility outside of Mohave County for processing and release."
That sex offenders will participate in work programs outside of the prison.
"Hualapai Unit is medium security, so inmates there cannot participate in work programs outside of the prison, nor are sex offender inmates eligible for early release through the transition program," said Wilder.
GEO spokesman Pablo Paez told the Miner the private prison operator - which took over for ousted Management and Training Corporation Dec. 1 - is "comfortable" with the Arizona Department of Corrections' decision to house sex offenders at the prison's Hualapai Unit, which has been essentially shut down since a series of riots destroyed four of five housing pods in July.
The riots led to MTC losing the contract it held for more than a decade. Gov. Doug Ducey awarded it to GEO Group.
Paez said GEO Group has a successful track record of managing sex offenders.
"We currently manage a 1,280-bed (Sex Offender Treatment Program) facility in Florence and are working to put SOTP resources in place in Kingman," he said.
The minimum-security Cerbat Unit that sits adjacent to Hualapai will remain a minimum-security general population prison.
A reader told the Miner that inmates at Cerbat who are involved in work programs are concerned residents believe they are sex offenders, and that some have been verbally harassed with comments that lead them to believe the aggressor believes they are sex offenders.
Only certain minimum-security inmates housed at Cerbat are eligible for work programs with city and county entities. Medium-security inmates are ineligible for the program, as Wilder said.
The vast majority of Hualapai inmates were moved to other institutions following three riots that occurred over the first four days of July. The first took place in Cerbat, which moved 40 inmates from the 2,000-bed prison in July, and more than 1,100 were taken from Hualapai.
Inmates did an estimated $1.9 million in damage to the Hualapai Unit, which is on track to reopen next month after six months of repair work.
The same inmate guidelines are in place for the sex offenders who replace those who rioted. No murderers or attempted murderers, nobody with more than 20 years left on their sentences, and nobody with a history of escape or attempted escape will be housed at the Hualapai Unit, according to Paez.
Also, Wilder said the prisoners at Hualapai are classified as "general population sex offenders," as opposed to protective custody sex offenders, which require a higher level of security. Wilder said this class of inmate is often easier to manage than others.