Adams County residents discuss proposed correctional facilities

Published 10:41 am Wednesday, February 21, 2007

At Tuesday’s public hearing on proposed correctional facilities, some Adams County residents were concerned about safety, others about who would be held in the proposed facilities and how they would operate.

But most people were worried about what the proposed facilities would look like.

A facility would house low- to medium-security prisoners, likely mostly illegal immigrants who had committed federal crimes. The inmates would be mostly non-violent drug offenders who would eventually be released to the federal government and deported back to their home countries, representatives for both companies said.

Email newsletter signup

Because Natchez and Adams County rely on tourism, residents at Tuesday’s meeting were concerned how it would look for tourists to be greeted by razor wire-lined fences on U.S. 84 or at the Natchez-Adams County Airport, two proposed locations.

Natchez Tourism Director Walter Tipton said he was supportive of projects that would bring economic development, but was concerned about the aesthetics of potential prisons.

“It’s going to look like a prison, it’s going to have razor wire,” Tipton said. “It’s not what I feel would be appealing. It’s important we consider how these facilities look and how they’re set back from the road.”

CCA’s facility might look more like a campus than a jail, Vice President of Research, Contracts and Proposals Lucibeth Nave Mayberry said. Practices had advanced enough to make a facility in Adams County more visually appealing than their state facility in Wilkinson County, she said.

The country’s two largest private correctional facilities companies are looking at putting a facility in Adams County. Corrections Corporation of America is looking at a site in the northeast part of the county on U.S. 84, along with locations in two other counties. The GEO Group, Inc., is considering a site at the Natchez-Adams County Airport.

The two companies are vying for several federal government contracts, but because of the local resources, both agreed Tuesday that Adams County would likely only have one such facility in the end.

A CCA facility would likely house 1,500 inmates, provide 300 mostly local jobs and cost $90 million to build.

A GEO project would probably look similar, but Vice President of Business Development Cloid Shuler couldn’t say for sure. That’s because the two companies have different business approaches.

GEO plans to wait to see if it is awarded a federal contract before it builds a facility, while CCA prefers to build a facility and have the beds ready if the contract is awarded.

“We are careful about building,” Shuler said. “We prefer to get a proposal and respond to that.”

The shortage of correctional facilities in the country gives CCA confidence, Mayberry said.

“We would not invest $90 million in a facility if we didn’t feel we would get a contract,” she said.

A correctional facility was a great opportunity for jobs, CCA Senior Director of Site Acquisition and Development Brad Wiggins said.

Employees for both companies go through a selection and training process, representatives said.

But it’s more than just an opportunity to be a guard, Wiggins said. Employees are needed for services like food, medical services and instruction.

“About 65 percent of our staff are in the correction service,” Wiggins said. “Then, whatever you can imagine it takes to run the City of Natchez, that’s what it’s going to take for us to operate.”

According to state law, the county government must publish the companies’ intentions to locate in the county.

After that, if residents are opposed to the idea, they can gather signatures for a petition. With either 20 percent or 1,500 of the population’s signatures, residents can ask the county to hold an election to decide the issue.

If no petition is filed within 60 days of the last publication of the notice, the companies can proceed as planned.

In other business:

4The board approved Adams County Sheriff’s Office to use money the Pike County Sheriff Office is paying to house some Pike County prisoners to repair the Adams County Jail.

4The board approved the sheriff’s office to hire a corrections supervisor to use county inmates to pick up trash along county roads.

4The board voted to enter into a contract to dispose of old tires. A Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality grant will pay for the disposal.

4The board agreed to send a letter to county departments alerting them to the county’s dwindling budget and ask them to cut back on spending.