Kenai Peninsula Borough OKs public vote on private prison

Posted: Thursday, July 12, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Kenai Peninsula residents will get the last word in the private prison debate.

In a 9-0 vote Tuesday, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly approved a simple ballot question that will be presented to voters at the Oct. 2 regular election.

If a majority of voters say yes, the borough can work with the state and a private contractor to build a prison that could hold up to 1,000 inmates. A no vote would forbid the borough from going forward with a private prison project for at least two years.

The ballot question won support from prison opponents as well as assembly members who have backed the project as an opportunity to steer millions of dollars toward the Kenai.

''I think each side is confident of the outcome, which may explain why they're being so gracious to one another,'' said Anchorage attorney Joe Josephson, a former state senator representing the Alaska Public Safety Employees Association.

The ballot measure was clarified Tuesday to spell out how the borough will react if voters reject the prison idea. It can neither design nor build a prison. The original wording had been murky.

A movement to woo the state and a private contractor to select a site on the Peninsula sprang from an idea suggested about a year ago by the Kenai Natives Association, which owns land next to the state-run Wildwood medium-security prison just north of Kenai.

Since then, several assembly members and the borough administration have pushed through a preliminary contract with a group of companies led by Cornell Corrections. The deal spurred rapid passage of a state law authorizing the Department of Corrections to talk with the borough about putting what would be the state's first privately operated prison on the Peninsula.

Opponents have complained that the chain of events has come at the expense of public process and thoughtful planning.

A petition drive was gathering signatures for a ballot measure. Concern about the process led Assemblyman Pete Sprague of Soldotna to call for an advisory ballot measure next fall.

The assembly's ballot question nullifies the petition drive.



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