U.S. Marshals Service to build privately operated detention center in Kansas

December 23, 1990|By J. Duncan Moore Jr. | J. Duncan Moore Jr.,Special to The Sun

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. -- The U.S. Marshals Service will build a privately owned and operated detention center here next year, the first such arrangement by the federal government.

Designed to hold up to 440 inmates awaiting trial or sentencing in federal courts, the detention center will be constructed by the Correctional Development Corp. of St. Louis and operated by the Corrections Corp. of America of Nashville, Tenn. Both are for-profit firms.

"Think of us as a landlord," said Bruce Rich, president of Correctional Development. "We have a building managed by Corrections Corp. of America; our tenant happens to be the U.S. Marshals Service."

Although the Marshals Service may be trying something new with the detention-center concept, it's sticking to the tried-and-true in its choice of site. Leavenworth, a pioneer-era town of 40,636 on the Missouri River bluffs, is already home to a U.S. Army prison housing 1,478 inmates, a federal penitentiary housing about 2,000, and the largest state prison in Kansas, housing 1,940, not to mention the Leavenworth County Jail.

Best known as the home of Fort Leavenworth, the oldest Army outpost west of the Mississippi in continuous operation, the town has made a profitable second career of hospitality to the criminal classes. What Detroit is to cars, Leavenworth is to incarceration.

"I do believe that's one of the reasons the Marshals Service picked us," said Regina Ehrlich of the Leavenworth Area Economic Development Corp. "We have a trained work force here."

The detention center will add about 100 jobs to the 2,186 already on the prison payrolls. It will also put taxable property on the roster in a town where, because of the large federal presence, 47 percent of all property is exempt.

Correctional Development got started five years ago when it won a bid contract from the state of Missouri to build a 500-bed maximum-security prison.

"That was the first in the country that incorporated total project development," Mr. Rich said. "I like to think of it as a public-private partnership. We provided design, financing, construction and selected the site." Correctional Development also chose, purchased and installed the equipment and furniture, all for a lump-sum price.

The contract with the Marshals Service is the company's first with a federal agency.

The service wanted a facility within an hour's drive of the federal courthouse in Kansas City, Mo. Normally, the agency rents space to hold prisoners from cities and counties around the country on a contract basis.

Although this is the Marshals Service's first such detention center, the arrangement really is not different from any other rental contract. For housing each prisoner, including food, utilities, maintenance, staff payroll and amortization of building cost, the Marshals Service will pay $71 a day.

Groundbreaking is scheduled for next spring. The facility will cost $20 million to $30 million to construct and should be operational by 1992, Mr. Rich said.

When the request for bids went out, interested private developers contacted a number of towns in the region. Most of them said "no way" to having a prison in their communities, Mr. Rich said. Leavenworth was not only receptive to the idea, but it also actively supported the detention center plan.

"I suppose in a community where there isn't a prison, there's a fear," Mayor Carolyn Tillotson said. "That's lacking here because we've had them so long. People have lived with it all their lives."

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