Nevada’s experience proves it: Detention center a win-win for South Florida

A few years ago, Pahrump — a town in the Nevada county I represent — was presented with an economic development opportunity that generated considerable controversy. I was a planning commissioner during that time and wanted to share our experience, as Broward County has a similar opportunity with the South Florida Detention Center coming soon to Southwest Ranches.

As with Broward’s project, CCA was selected to operate a facility for federal detainees in my hometown. When this company was selected, it brought out some interesting emotions in our residents. People had concerns, including the stereotype of becoming a “prison town,” that our real estate market would plummet, that crime would increase, that prisoners or detainees would be released directly from the facility, that CCA was not a trustworthy company, that it would not be a good community partner or employer, that it would not hire any local people – the list goes on. People truly believed that this project would be the end of our town. None of these fears was realized.

There was a lot of inaccurate information spread during the debate over the detention center. Serving as an elected official when the project was under consideration was a tough place to be. Like officials in southwest Broward today, I met with CCA’s representatives, asked questions, saw other projects, spoke with people who had CCA facilities in their towns, and I quickly realized this was a great company and a real opportunity for our community. It was not easy for me to take a stand in support of the project, but I knew it was the right thing to do.

Each of the local elected boards held meetings, talked about the project and asked every possible question. Members of our County Commission, Town Board and key management staff toured facilities in Arizona, California and Idaho – and they found the same thing I did. Professional staff, safe operations and communities that were proud to have CCA as a partner.

Nevada, like Florida, was especially hard hit by the turn in the real estate market. Right as this happened, CCA started building. It hired many local sub-contractors to help build the project, worked with and identified local vendors who could provide goods and services to the facility, and then held job fairs and worked with local staffing agencies and the community college to pre-screen residents to get them prepared for the job opportunities at the facility. CCA now employs more than 200 people, many of whom have purchased homes and no longer have to commute to Las Vegas, allowing them to spend more time with their families.

The facility was built in such a manner that there is no negative aesthetic impact on our community. Even at night, unless you know precisely where to look, you would never know there was a detention center there.

The staff holds quarterly citizens advisor committee meetings, and many who were vehemently opposed to CCA coming to town now cannot say enough about the positive contributions it has made in our community. We did our homework, we asked the right questions, and now we have a partnership with a company that has helped to sustain our economic viability.

Since opening the Nevada Southern facility in late 2010, CCA has not only met community expectations, it exceeded them in every way. It improved our infrastructure, hired local people, uses local suppliers and stores, works well with local law enforcement and EMS, consistently supports community events and organizations, and pays property taxes and good wages, and offers full benefits and retirement.  In short, CCA has been a welcome partner in my town and a great addition to our business community. CCA kept its promises, and the representations it made about the impacts a detention facility has on a community have proven true.

What more can anyone ask?

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