New CCA facility about 60 percent complete

Published 12:01 am Saturday, March 22, 2008

NATCHEZ — In a damp, dark seven-by-nine foot prison cell, Michael Brown inspects his surroundings.

But Brown’s not incarcerated, he’s the assistant project manager on the Corrections Corporation of America’s new prison facility on U.S. 84.

Senior project manager Bobby Smith said the project is nearing completion.

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The prison’s construction began in July 2007 and is expected to be completed on Dec. 1 of this year.

“Right now we’re about 60 percent complete,” he said.

Both Brown and Smith work for Flintco, the project’s general contractor.

“We’re making good progress,” Smith said.

And progress can be seen on almost every inch of the 80-acre site.

Men crisscross the grounds with tools in hand as the sounds of construction generate a hum that fills the work site.

Once fully completed, the prison will have four buildings to house up to 1,600 inmates.

While most of the prison’s inmates will live in open dorms or in general population, some will live in the segregation unit.

Burt West, a CCA inspector, had perhaps the best summation for the segregation unit.

“This is for the really bad boys,” he said.

However, the CCA prison is still scheduled to house low to medium risk prisoners.

West said the segregation unit is for prisoners who cannot, mainly for behavioral reasons, remain in general population.

The cells in the segregation unit are seven by nine feet and have two metal planks that come from the wall for beds and a stainless steel sink/toilet combination.

Cells in the unit will house two inmates for 23 hours a day.

The remaining hour is for recreation.

Right now the segregation unit, like the rest of the facility, is only a shell of what it will look like months from now.

The shape of the facility is in place and the finishing touches are slowly being installed.

In one of the general population units — an enormous empty room lined with shower stalls — 192 bunk beds are one of the few reaming additions not yet in place.

Most of the facility is still being outfitted with plumbing and electrical systems.

Smith said one of the most crucial systems, not yet installed, is the security system.

“It’s a vital component to the project,” he said.

Smith said the security system will essentially be able to watch the entire facility.

The security system will also electrify more than 4,600 feet of fence surrounding the campus.

“You definitely won’t want to touch it,” Brown said.

While the prison won’t be completed for months, West said all the beds are already spoken for.

And on Jan. 1, 2009, the projected opening date, CCA officials say approximately 325 employees will be reporting to work.

In the past, CCA officials have said they plan to hire as many locals to work at the prison as possible.

The construction alone is currently employing approximately 160 workers.

In addition, Smith said most of the sub-contractors used for the project were local.

“It’s a definite boost for the economy,” Smith said.

One local business has already seen a major boost in business since construction began.

At the Hobo Forks Grocery, almost directly across the street from the construction site, business is booming.

Owner Jeff Webb said he was approached by CCA and Flintco officials before construction started and told to prepare for a business rush.

“It probably doubled our business,” he said.

The lunch rush eventually got so busy that Webb increased his part-time staff from four to 13.