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6:37 PM Thu, Nov. 15th

Corrections officials mum on private prison status

The Arizona Department of Corrections apparently has not made a decision yet on whether a private prison will be located near Kingman or in Holbrook, and department and other state officials are not releasing any information.

Corrections spokesman Jim Robideau said Tuesday afternoon that he had been trying to track down information from the contracts division to determine whether a decision had been delayed.

A reporter from the Miner generally calls his office at least twice a week over the past few weeks and has tried to obtain a comment from last Thursday.

Meanwhile, state Rep.

Joe Hart, R-Kingman, said he does not expect a decision earlier than March and thinks the Department of Corrections should issue a new request for proposals to recruit companies to operate the private prison.

A previous RFP drew responses from only two companies: Dominion Correctional Services LLC of Edmond, Okla., which is trying to lure the prison to a 196-acre site adjoining the Griffith Energy Project 14 miles southwest of Kingman; and Correctional Services Corp.

of Sarasota, Fla., which wants to build the prison in Holbrook.

Robideau said the private prison issue came up last week in the context of the budget proposed by Arizona's new governor Janet Napolitano.

"I am trying to find out what the deal is," he said.

Napolitano's press secretary, Kris Mayes, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The Associated Press reported Friday that delays and concerns about the state budget have raised questions about the private prison, which would house 1,400 male inmates convicted of felony drunken driving.

The Department of Corrections was supposed to make a decision as early as Dec.

11, but officials later said they expected to make an announcement sometime in January.

During a visit to Kingman Dec.

20, Rep.

Jake Flake, R-Snowflake, the new speaker of the House, announced that a legislative committee had recommended the Dominion site for the proposed prison.

Contacted afterward, Mike Arra of the Department of Corrections declined to confirm what Flake said but mentioned contract proposals were being reviewed by the Attorney General's Office.

"We don't have any information on that," said Jake Logan, senior adviser to House Republicans.

"No more additional information on what the speaker said."

Richard Travis, the spokesman for new Attorney General Terry Goddard, could not be reached for comment.

Goddard replaced fellow Democrat Napolitano as attorney general in January.

Hart said on Tuesday that Goddard's office had not released any information regarding the contract.

Hart expressed pessimism on an early decision.

"There is no way they are going to do anything by March," he said.

"I think (Corrections) need to do another (request for proposals) and just start over again because there is obviously something wrong and they cannot deliver the project on time.

I'm hearing all kind of rumors (why)."

Hart has opposed the Mohave County site since Dominion obtained the land more than three years ago, contending prisons are the "lowest" form of economic development and would draw families of inmates to the area.

However, his two colleagues representing District 3, Rep.

Bill Wagner, R-Bullhead City, and Linda Binder, R-Lake Havasu City, back the prison because they believe it will create jobs and bring in property tax revenues.

Wagner said he has had difficulty tracking down information on the prison decision as well, but added, "I have been so swamped with everything I have been doing.

I have not pursued it."

Wagner, the retired fire chief from Bullhead City, said he spoke to Binder Tuesday regarding the prison.

Binder said through a secretary that she knows nothing about the prison and had not heard any word from Napolitano.

Another prison backer, District 3 County Supervisor Buster Johnson of Lake Havasu City, indicated that he thinks Mohave County would be a better location because of a larger labor force than in Navajo County, which has a higher unemployment rate.

"We are just waiting for (the contract) to come out," Johnson said.

"I have been calling and doing my bit."