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Firm Drops Plans to Consider Gorman Site for Prison

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A private prison company said Wednesday that it was eliminating a location near Gorman as a possible site for construction of a 500-bed medium-security prison because of community opposition.

Cornell Corrections Inc., with offices in Ventura, plans to expand its search outside of Los Angeles County, said John Forren, the firm’s vice president of operations.

“We honestly believe that . . . [Cornell’s] facilities offer some advantages to communities,” Forren said. “Obviously, that is not the way people in the Gorman area are viewing it.”

Residents of the tiny communities near the Interstate 5 way-station rallied in opposition to the proposed facility, which the company had considered proposing for an area 13 miles south of Gorman near Pyramid Lake.

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The recently formed Mountain Communities Town Council made fighting the proposed correctional center its first priority, and passed a resolution opposing it.

Civic leaders in the tiny communities of Lebec, Frazier Park, Pine Mountain Club and the Lockwood and Cuddy valleys said they gathered 1,400 signature on a petition against it. The Greater Frazier Mountain Chamber of Commerce also opposed the facility.

Penny Maines, a corporate communications specialist who is among those spearheading the opposition, seemed stunned by the news.

“I’m delighted to hear that,” she said. “Maybe we little folk do have some say-so in these issues.”

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State corrections officials say that community support is a critical factor in a complex formula used to award the prison contracts. The state also requires that the facilities be located near major highways and existing prisons.

The 20-year contracts are worth $8 million to $9 million per year, with construction costs pro-rated and reimbursed over the life of the contract, said Christine May, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections.

California has been experimenting with privately run correctional centers since the 1980s. One dozen facilities that cater to nonviolent offenders now operate in the state.

The value of the contracts and the jobs they bring are highly prized by some communities and some, such as California City, are actively recruiting not only the privately built prisons, but also the larger state-run facilities.

But Gorman area residents believed a prison would overshadow the entire community rather than blend into it, Maines said.

“Gorman is a very small community,” Maines said. “There is no way for Gorman to absorb a state prison. It would become a state prison.”

Despite Cornell’s announcement, though, she and other community leaders said they would celebrate after the March 6 state deadline for submitting a prison proposal. Until then, she said, company executives could change their minds.


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