Residents understandably have a number of questions about a private prison proposal being put forth by the Kenai Natives Association.
Would such a prison change the community? If so, in what way? Would prisoners who served their time at the prison be released here? Would the prison house sex offenders? How many jobs would the prison create? What kind of wage would the prison's jobs command? Is a halfway house also being considered? How would the private prison affect the existing Wildwood Correctional Center? How would it affect property values?
A KNA official was at this week's Kenai Chamber of Commerce meeting to offer some answers and tout the benefits of the proposal to the community.
Not the least of the benefits is an estimated 250 to 300 permanent prison jobs, which would not be affected by a boom-and-bust economy.
KNA is proposing to build and operate a medium-security prison on land it owns adjacent to the existing medium-security Wildwood Correctional Center. The proposal calls for housing up to 1,000 prisoners.
The borough would own the prison, which would be constructed and operated by a private contractor.
Although current legislation authorizes the state Department of Corrections specifically to contract with the city of Delta Junction to hire a private contractor to open a prison in existing space at Fort Greely, that project has stalled. Legislative action will be needed if KNA's proposal is to fly, but the association has positioned itself to be prepared if the state decides KNA's services are needed.
Borough action also is needed. An ordinance introduced by Mayor Dale Bagley is scheduled for hearing at the assembly next meeting on Dec. 12. The measure would allow for bids from prospective prison builders and operators, as well as allow the mayor to negotiate a deal with the state.
The measure is on a fast-track to get a proposal to the state administration before the Legislature convenes in January.
The prison is not yet a done deal, and there's still time for residents to ask their questions and voice their opinions. In fact, now is the time to do precisely that.
Residents with questions and concerns about the prison should contact their assembly members and the mayor's office. They also should show up at the Dec. 12 meeting.
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