Neighborhood watch starts petition for potential prison

Published 9:06 pm Saturday, March 10, 2007

A petition has been started asking for a vote on potential federal correctional facilities locating in Adams County.

Robert Palmer, captain of the Cranfield neighborhood watch, said he and other members have drawn up a petition and started circulating it Friday morning.

“Some of the members and I live out here, and someone has to be the initial start-up person,” Palmer said. “I think before we just put something in an area, everybody should have the right to vote for or against it.”

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One of the two private prison companies, CCA, is looking at locating a minimum to medium security facility in northeast Adams County, and the other, GEO, is looking at a lot at the Natchez-Adams County Airport.

Representatives from both companies said it’s likely only one will end up locating in Adams County.

The petition is not for or against either prison. It simply requests the proposal to locate and build federal prisons in the county be brought to a public vote.

Palmer said he thought most people would sign the petition, whether a resident was for or against the facilities.

By state law, residents of a county have a right to bring before the board of supervisors a petition with either 1,500 signatures or signatures from 20 percent of the population, whichever is less.

If the petition meets the minimum number of required signatures, the county must hold an election to decide whether or not to accept the prison.

The deadline to submit the petition — April 24 — is fast approaching, Palmer said.

“It’s getting real close,” Palmer said. “We’re hoping to (get enough signatures). If we can get word out to the public that the petitions are out there to sign, I think we can.”

If the petition gets enough signatures and the issue comes to a vote, the topic could be voted on either in the scheduled elections in August and November, or the county could hold a special election.

Supervisor President Darryl Grennell said he thought the decision would be up to the board.

A special election would be quicker but would cost extra county money, he said.

If it came to a vote, it might mean at least one company would look elsewhere to locate a new facility, Grennell said.

Both companies, but especially CCA, have expressed interest in working quickly in order to take advantage of GO Zone opportunities and be ready for potential government contracts.

“If this thing gets on the ballot, it will delay it tremendously, and CCA will probably end up looking at another county,” he said.

He said he hadn’t heard one way or the other from GEO on the subject.

Grennell said he thought a federal prison facility, hiring local people and buying from local suppliers, would be a boon to the local economy.

“All it’s going to do is have a positive affect for Natchez-Adams County,” he said.

CCA spokesman Steve Owen said it would be premature to speculate on what the company’s reaction would be if the issue was brought to a vote. CCA representatives have said in the past they are also looking at locations in Pike and Walthall counties. GEO is looking only at Adams County.

“We’re assessing multiple sites,” Owen said.

“We will closely monitor the process. We understand and respect that process.”

Timing would also play a part in where the company decided to locate, he said.

“It’s certainly something we are taking a close look at,” Owen said.

“But because it’s so early in the process, it would be really speculative.”

Anyone interested in signing the petition should call Palmer at 601-431-6469.