Private prison pitched to chamber

Representatives of Cornell Companies address business luncheon

Posted: Thursday, July 19, 2001

Cornell comes to Kenai.

Two spokespersons for the company selected by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly to promote and plan the state's first private prison were on hand at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce's noon luncheon on Wednesday to give a presentation about the company and answer questions from the public.

"Committed to making a difference," is how Marvin Wiebe, senior vice president for Cornell Companies Inc., described the company. He shared Cornell's mission statement: a commitment to quality services; safe, secure and cost-effective programs; reinvestment in the growth and development of staff; partnerships with contracting agencies, communities and families; and leadership in the industry.

Cornell currently has 15,885 offenders and clients, 40 percent of whom are juveniles. They operate 70 facilities in 13 states and the District of Columbia. Six of those facilities are halfway houses in Alaska that were obtained when Cornell purchased Allvest Inc. in 1998. Allvest was founded by William C. Weimar. Cornell is identified on the New York Stock Exchange as "CRN."

Wiebe stressed Cornell's commitment to local hire. He said that if the 800- to 1,000-bed medium security prison is built, it will result in some 212 employees, of which 130 would be correctional officers. Wiebe said beginning wages for correctional officers would be in the $13.50 to $15 range.

Michael Gilliland, Cornell's business development southwest coordinator, said employee training is geared to match existing state and national standards. Each employee receives 180 hours of training during the first year of employment and 40 hours every year after that. Part of the employee benefits package also includes a tuition assistance program.

In response to a question about the company's focus on rehabilitation programs, Wiebe that, "I beat that drum as loud as anyone." He said it is estimated some 500,000 inmates will be released from prisons across the United States this year.

The borough assembly voted at its July 10 meeting to let voters decide in October whether the borough will proceed with the construction and operation of the prison.

When Wiebe was asked on Wednesday what Cornell's role would be until the election, he laughingly responded, "We vote 'yes' on that, that's for sure."

Wiebe said that the borough administration has requested Cornell's presence on the peninsula to help provide the public with information about the proposed prison. It is anticipated that a Cornell spokesperson will share the podium today with Borough Mayor Dale Bagley at the noon meeting of the North Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, although neither the mayor's office nor the chamber could confirm that would take place.

Cornell also is on the agenda for the Aug. 7 meeting of the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce.

According to Debra Holle, Kenai Peninsula branch manager for the American Red Cross, Cornell joined BP, Tesoro Alaska, Forest Oil Corp., Agrium Inc. and Phillips Petroleum Company as a major sponsor of that organization's 10th annual golf tournament.

"Cornell is showing good faith in their efforts," Holle said. "I'm very, very appreciative."

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