Third GEO Group Prison Project Resurrected Despite Earlier PC Rejection

ADELANTO—Citing financial hardship, the Adelanto City Council this week on a 3-2 vote resuscitated GEO Group’s previously withdrawn proposal to build that private incarceration company’s third prison in Adelanto.
With councilmen Ed Camargo, Jermaine Wright and John Woodard supporting the project and Mayor Rich Kerr and Charley Glasper in opposition, the council approved the 1,000-bed jail on 22.16 acres of land on the northeast corner of Holly and Koala roads, a half-mile from residential housing and roughly 1.5 miles from Adelanto High School. In casting their votes, the trio of Camargo, Wright and Woodard overrode the planning commission’s rejection of the proposal earlier this month. Moreover, Wright’s vote to approve the plan reverses a vote he made 11 months ago, in November 2014, against an earlier version of the proposal. At that time, GEO Group, led by George Zoley, was requesting clearance to construct what was described as a 1,050-bed private prison at the same Holly and Koala roads location. The council as it was then composed – consisting of Wright, then-mayor Cari Thomas, then-councilman Steve Baisden, then-councilman Charles Valvo and Camago – approved the project 3-2 with Wright and Baisden in opposition. Despite that approval, the Greek-born Zoley, who is among the 1,500 wealthiest men in the world, withdrew the proposal in January. Zoley had been offended by a massive scale protest at that time which decried the city of Adelanto’s hosting of prison facilities.
The city of 31,765 already hosts three prisons or detention facilities and on the same night as the Geo Group’s proposal was given go-ahead on November 19, 2914, the council had
also given approval to a company known as LCS Holdings headed by Doctor Crants and Buck Johns to build a 3,264-bed detention facility to house Los Angeles County’s overflow inmate population.
This week, on October 28, Wright, Camargo and Woodard, referencing enhanced revenue the city will receive once the project is completed and functioning, gave GEO a two-year window to obtain a permit for the facility and five years beyond that to find an entity to supply inmates to be housed at the facility.
Geo Group, Inc. which started as a corporate offshoot of the private prison facility Wackenhut Corporation and now operates prison facilities on contract with governmental jurisdictions in the United States, Great Britain, Australia and South Africa, already operates in Adelanto both a 1,940 inmate capacity facility for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency and the 700-inmate Desert View Modified Community Correctional Facility on behalf of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
In addition, Adelanto is home to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department’s High Desert Detention Center, a 2,098-bed facility.
Adelanto Planning Commissioner Joy Jeanette was among those in attendance at last week’s meeting. She referenced the relative proximity of the high school as a reason for turning thumbs down on the proposal.
For its part, Geo Group threw in some financial incentives that were too tempting for the council majority to resist. In return for the project approval, GEO, which at present is paying the city $367,000 annually to operate in Adelanto, agreed to pay the city a one dollar per day per-bed fee for all three of its facilities.
Thus, according to the city staff report on the project, at GEO Group’s 700-bed Desert View Prison it will pay the city $21,292 monthly and $255, 500 annually; at its 650-bed Adelanto East Prison it will pay the city $19,771 monthly or $237,250 annually and at its 1,290-bed Adelanto West Prison it will pay the city $39,237 monthly or $470,850 annually. This translates to an infusion of funds into the city of $80,300 monthly or $963,600 annually, bringing to a total of $1,330,000 the city will derive from GEO in annual revenue. The staff report did not explain the discrepancy between the 1,000-bed description of the facility and the 1,290 figure given in the other reference to the prison.
Indications were that upon the completion of the project and its certification for occupancy, GEO will place prisoners within the facility, but it is not clear from whence they will have originated. In general, the facilities operated by GEO house prisoners under a contractual arrangement with some jurisdiction or agency of the government. In this case, GEO is building the facility without having a pre-existing arrangement with an agency in place. GEO’s permanent client for the new Adelanto facility will be identified upon the closure of the contract with that agency. It has therefore not been spelled out yet what the security-level of the inmates to reside there will be.
It was this element of the deal and the general reservations many have over the city being host to prisons and the implication that will have on Adelanto’s reputation and public image that fueled some resistance to the project.
It was for that reason that Mayor Rich Kerr voted against granting GEO its appeal of the planning commission’s decision.
Councilman Charley Glasper, who likewise opposed granting GEO the appeal, was less concerned about harm to the city’s image. He said as long as the prisons remain secure and prisoners cannot escape, no real harm will be done to the community.

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