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Walsenburg prison may reopen in 2012

by Larry Patrick

WALSENBURG- It’s not a sure thing, but the CCA prison based in  Wal- senburg could be reopened in 2012. Late last week, CCA circulated a letter to employees across the country telling about the latest developments going on with their facilities.

    A copy of the letter was given to the Huerfano World Journal by a former prison employee.  That letter, plus an article in the Pueblo Chieftain indicate that CCA official, Steve Owen, says his company has been in negotiations with California to bring over 3200 inmates to Colorado and Minnesota in 2012.  Owen says that Crowley County would get a share of California inmates.  Crowley County’s current 1600 inmates would be placed in other CCA facilities.  CCA operates four prisons in Colorado.

    This announcement brings no guarantees that the Walsenburg prison facility will open.  But Owen was quoted as saying, “The company feels confident that this anticipated contract will be a positive, meaningful step toward the total utilizations of CCA’s correctional facilities in Colorado.” 

     The above statement would lead one to think that CCA will work to get the facility in Walsenburg reopened, which they have been trying to do since it closed last April when Arizona called back all of its prisoners being housed here. 

    CCA’s departure cost 180 jobs, about half of which were workers in Huerfano County.  The City of Walsenburg also lost around $250,000 in water-sewer revenue from CCA at a critical time, as a new waste water treatment plant is being built. The amount of money lost would have helped with the annual payment for the treatment plant bonds. 

    It now appears that Walsenburg may see the facility closed for all of 2011 meaning the city will suffer another $300,000 in lost revenue.  That, plus the number of jobs that won’t be replaced for another year will not help in spurring Walsenburg’s economy any time soon.

    CCA is obligated to pay their property taxes on the facility. This year those taxes amounted to approximately $700,000.  CCA also still employs around eight people at the closed down facility for security and maintenance operations.  The County government also lost over $100,000 in revenue with the closing.

    California officials have confirmed that it intends to award a new contract to CCA for Crowley County.  The announcement by CCA came out last Thursday.  The Pueblo Chieftain reported Saturday that Katherine Sanguinetti, the public information officer for the Department of Corrections, said there have not been any discussions as to whether the transfer of Colorado inmates out of Crowley County Correctional Facility could mean reopening the Huerfano County facility.

    The California prisoners slated to be sent to Crowley County are likely to be minimum security inmates.  Crowley County currently is a medium security facility.

    Until an official announcement is made of the reopening of the Huerfano County facility, this news brings forth optimism that jobs and revenue may come back to Walsenburg and Huerfano County even though it may not be until 2012.

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