Amendments to shrink size of private prison fail

Posted: Friday, April 26, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- An attempt to scale back the size of a private prison in Whittier and expand state prisons elsewhere failed Friday.

The House voted down three of four proposed amendments to a bill calling for a 1,000-bed private prison. A vote on the bill itself is scheduled Monday.

Rep. Eric Croft, D-Anchorage, proposed shrinking the Whittier prison to 250 beds and expanding existing state prisons in Fairbanks, Seward, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and Kenai.

Croft said that would allow more inmates to be closer to their home communities and would let the state start small with a private prison and see how well it performs.

''You could consider it a pilot project,'' Croft said.

Rep. John Harris, R-Valdez, objected, saying the bill would not accomplish its purpose of reducing costs with that change.

Cornell Companies, which would build and operate the prison under the proposal before the Legislature, has based its project on the economies of scale that would result from one large prison.

''What this amendment does is basically gut this bill, and I think the intent is to gut the bill,'' Harris said.

The amendment failed 17-19.

The bill, which is sponsored by the House Finance Committee, calls for the state to enter into a 25-year contract with the city of Whittier to provide prison space. The city of Whittier, in turn, would contract with Cornell to build and operate the prison.

The bill also would expand a state prison in Bethel by 96 beds.

The bill states that the Legislature intends to spend no more than $89 to $91 a day, or 18 to 20 percent less than the average state rate, to house prisoners at Whittier. Department of Corrections officials have said that language is not binding.

Representatives also rejected amendments Friday to limit spending on the private prison to $71 a day and to expand or build new small jails in Dillingham, Kodiak, Kotzebue and the North Slope Borough.

They adopted an amendment by Rep. Mary Kapsner, D-Bethel, that allows the Bethel prison to be expanded even if the Whittier prison is not built.


The bill is House Bill 498.

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