Clearfield County private prison draws support, hopes to get new federal contract

lfalce@centredaily.comMarch 18, 2014 

— Local leaders are rallying to support the renewal of a contract for a Philipsburg-area prison.

The GEO Group, which operates the Moshannon Valley Correctional Center, is trying to renew its contract, set to expire in 2016, with the federal Bureau of Prisons. Another prison in Ohio also is trying to renew its contract. GEO Vice President of Corporate Relations Pablo Paez said last year that only one of them will be renewed.

Paez estimated the total annual spending, including salaries, property taxes and other area expenditures at the prison to be about $25 million.

Enter a flurry of letter writing in support of the Moshannon Valley facility.

“If you lost them, what would that do to the area? You’d lose 250 good-paying jobs. That would be terrible,” said Stan LaFuria, executive director of the Moshannon Valley Economic Development Partnership. “This is of huge importance to the area. I don’t think it can be overstated.”

LaFuria has encouraged the support. Local leaders at all levels have joined him in calling for the contract to be renewed. On Monday, Philipsburg Borough Council approved sending a letter of support.

U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson said he supports the effort to protect the local prison.

“The tremendous support from the local community is a true testament of the economic footprint the Moshannon Valley Correctional Facility has in the region,” Thompson, R-Howard Township, said in a letter to the Centre Daily Times.

State Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, sent his letter of support in August.

“Clearly they are a huge employer for the 77th District,” said Conklin’s chief of staff, Tor Michaels. “If there was a closing it would have an adverse affect on the area.”

On the other hand, if the contract is awarded, even more jobs are possible.

“My understanding is if this gets through, there will another expansion and more jobs,” said Philipsburg Borough Council Member Fred Grauch.

According to Thompson, preserving the facility would trigger a $10 million expansion, with 24 new full-time jobs, plus more than 50 construction jobs along the way.

“They will have to expand to meet the bid requirements,” said LaFuria, who said the new numbers for the prison would be about 2,000 prisoners.

GEO, a Boca Raton, Fla., company, is one of the largest private prison operators in the world, with 98 facilities in four countries. The Decatur Township location was built in 2006 and expanded in 2010, housing 1,820 prisoners for the federal government.

This is not the first time locals have picked up their pens to let the government know how important the project is to them. The original prison proposal was held up for years when the state Attorney General’s Office would not permit a private prison to operate in the state.

“We have been in this corner since day one,” said LaFuria. “It took us seven years to make the original facility a reality. But for many of the people I talk to, these are the best paying jobs they’ve ever had.”

There is little idea yet what direction the Bureau of Prisons will go.

“We have not received any indication,” said Michaels. “But we are hopeful.”

Lori Falce can be reached at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @LoriFalce.

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