Majority of Winslow crowd favors LaSalle Prison

Turnout at Aug. 16 meeting smaller than last

Clay McConnell, LaSalle corrections spokesperson, addresses Winslow’s citizens. Todd Roth/NHO

Clay McConnell, LaSalle corrections spokesperson, addresses Winslow’s citizens. Todd Roth/NHO

WINSLOW, Ariz. - The Arizona Department of Corrections held a public meeting in Winslow on Aug. 16 to complete one of the required steps before it awards a contract for building and operation of a private prison in an area.

Department of Corrections Director Chuck Ryan said that this is one of five public meetings being held in communities being considered for a private prison. He said that the department would evaluate the proposals and the public response and award contracts as early as Aug. 31. He introduced representatives of LaSalle Corrections Company, which has submitted a plan and bid for building and operating a 1,000-bed male prison facility in Winslow. Ryan was the warden at the Arizona State Prison in Winslow before becoming the Director of the Department of Corrections.

Clay McConnell introduced other members of the LaSalle Company, which is essentially a family owned and operated business. He said that in 1997 a family member in the construction business had been asked by a sheriff in a Louisiana parish where they are from to build a jail for him. That jail was built and another sheriff asked them to build another one. Then they were asked to build a jail and finance it. That facility is still in operation. In 1998 they were asked to not only build another jail but to operate it. This was, essentially, the beginning of LaSalle Corrections Company.

Clay McConnell was a minister and said that he had 200 inmates at a Bible study in a jail where they managed the facility and majored in rehabilitation. He left the ministry and went back to the family business, which he saw as a possibly better ministry opportunity.

A tragedy was literally the key event that got the McConnell family into the prison business on a larger scale. The Louisiana Department of Corrections called LaSalle after losing thousands of beds in prisons to the ravages of Hurricane Katrina. They built and operated facilities then in Louisiana and partnered with a drug rehabilitation 60-day program, which has been very successful. He said that the rehabilitation program run at LaSalle prisons in Louisiana has had much success in rehabilitating inmates and having them return to society as contributing and successful citizens. He described a work release program in which some inmates have had work release time and had bank accounts of up to $10,000 when they returned to society, often with a job they worked and learned while in prison.

He said that he was excited about having the prison come to Winslow and looking for people here to hire, especially retired DOC personnel.

Also present representing LaSalle were Billy McConnell, Pat Temple, Ryan Horvath, Nathan Quarterman, Rodney Cooper, Sean Twomey, Sean King and Jim Brandt. They all represent different aspects of the company and most are noted for their considerable experience. For instance, Quarterman is retired Institutional Director from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Clay McConnell said that Jim Brandt for McCarthy Construction had been working in Arizona for 32 years and was currently working on the casino east of Flagstaff. He said that McCarthy was a community based company and would hire local workers and subcontractors to a large degree.

He said that the prison would bring 120 construction jobs for building the facility and 130 permanent jobs. This would be a significant factor in the local economy. He said that studies have been done that show Winslow well suited to staff and support the prison. Mayor Robin Boyd spoke and said that he considered LaSalle to be a quality business and that Police Chief Steve Garnett had told him that there were very few problems in Winslow related to the presence of the state prison here. He said the city was looking forward to the prison coming here and that he considered LaSalle as probably the best company among those seeking sites in the state.

City Manager Jim Ferguson said that the city has adequate or more than adequate infrastructure for the prison to come here. He said that the city is continuing to improve and noted that there were people here to support LaSalle coming to Winslow from neighboring cities of Snowflake and Taylor.

"I personally believe in this project and know that some of our personnel will likely go to work with the Arizona Department of Corrections just as we will probably hire dome from there that have retired or left for other reasons," said McConnell.

Navajo County Supervisor Jesse Thomson was the first speaker from the audience and thanked LaSalle and Director Ryan for coming. He said that he and the county support Winslow and the binging of much needed jobs here. He said that he is proud of our work force. The county has seen losses with the closure of the paper mill at Snowflake and problems at the Cholla Power Plant, which he hopes will be solved and which are being worked upon. He welcomed LaSalle to Winslow and Navajo County.

Winslow City Engineer Mark Woodson said that Winslow has done the work building the infrastructure and making improvements in many areas to prepare for the coming of the Pioneer Forest Products Plant, the casino near Flagstaff and LaSalle Corrections facility.

City Attorney Dale Patton said that Winslow is a great place to live and raise a family. He said the schools are good and he hopes that the Department of Corrections will choose LaSalle.

A woman whose name was unclear was the first speaker against the prison and said that private prisons have problems and challenged the decision makers to look into those.

Tess Kenna spoke and told of teaching classes at the state prison where she said that then Warden Ryan said that rehabilitation was a major goal and that changing prisoners so that they will not return to prison was the project. She said that Winslow should be proud that LaSalle, which emphasizes rehabilitation, would want to come to Winslow.

Lawrence Kenna spoke and simply said, "Thank you, LaSalle, for choosing Winslow. You are a class act."

Todd Roth spoke and said that the state should select Winslow for the site of the prison as it has assets of superior transportation arteries. He cited the railroad, Interstate 40 and an all-weather airport.

Councilman Harold Soehner said that Winslow's main asset was its people. He said that it is important what we are building for Winslow and he hoped LaSalle would be part of it.

Steve Slaton spoke, apparently against the prison, saying that there could be problems with rentals and likely a need to hire more policemen.

Charles Crowhart, affiliated with the Little Colorado Medical Center, said that the hospital has been making improvements including a new emergency room and that he and most at that facility would like to see LaSalle prison come here.

Tom Chesersky of the Snowflake City Council spoke and said that Snowflake supports LaSalle and Winslow for the facility.

Eric Duthie, City Manager of the town of Taylor and representing the cities in Navajo and Apache Counties and most entities therein, said that he had been authorized to speak supporting a prison in Winslow and that the entire northeast Arizona region needs LaSalle Corrections to come to Winslow.

Marie LaMarr was the last speaker and said that she was not for LaSalle nor was she against LaSalle. She said she was very interested in Winslow and sees some problems with a private prison here.

There were two or three persons who signed up to speak and either left or chose not to speak.

The vast majority of the crowd appeared to favor LaSalle Corrections being selected to come to Winslow and showed that by applauding the speakers who spoke for that outcome. They were polite but relatively quiet when there were speakers against the company coming.

Many waited around to speak to representatives of LaSalle and those representatives definitely spoke about the importance of rehabilitation. One said that he would like to see the company put itself out of business by rehabilitating prisoners so that all became good citizens and never returned to custody.

While a majority of the crowd supported the prison, the crowd was not as large as the earlier meeting on the subject though the vast majority was in favor of LaSalle at that meeting as well.


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