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Pressure Mounts for WY Officials to Address Detention Facility

Wyoming Statute 7-22-102 prohibits a local government from entering into a contract to construct or operate a private incarceration facility in the state without the approval of the state's top five elected officials. (Patrick Feller/Flickr)
Wyoming Statute 7-22-102 prohibits a local government from entering into a contract to construct or operate a private incarceration facility in the state without the approval of the state's top five elected officials. (Patrick Feller/Flickr)
February 10, 2020

EVANSTON, Wyo. -- Uinta County commissioners are moving forward with plans to allow CoreCivic, formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America, to construct a for-profit immigrant-detention facility in Evanston. But critics warn the move could put state taxpayers on the hook if anything goes wrong and class-action suits are filed.

Antonio Serrano, organizer with the ACLU of Wyoming, said the prison should not be built without the approval of the state's top five elected officials.

"And if they build it in the way that they're trying to do it, and use the process they're trying to go through, dodging Wyoming law, they're opening a door to a facility that is going to have no local oversight, no accountability," Serrarno said. "It's going to open a door that we'll never be able to close here in Wyoming."

Serrano's group sent a letter to Gov. Mark Gordon, as well as the secretary of state, state treasurer, state auditor and superintendent of public instruction, reminding them that Wyoming law requires their approval for private incarceration facilities. Last month, commissioners approved the transfer of approximately 63 acres of county property to CoreCivic for the detention center. Commissioners have said the facility is not technically a prison, and say the move will bring jobs.

But the ACLU disagrees, and has argued the proposed facility meets the definition of a prison, jail or incarceration facility under Wyoming law. Serrano said CoreCivic has a reputation of using forced inmate labor to reduce the number of paid staff, and noted former workers have painted a pretty bleak picture of what kinds of jobs will be available.

"I've talked with former CoreCivic employees. The entire town ends up working there and quitting because they just can't handle it, because it's so stressful," he said. "It's long hours, they don't pay well, they don't treat you well, and then they make you do things that you don't want to do to human beings."

The ACLU has asked the state's top five elected officials to revisit the issue, noting in their letter the Wyoming law in question is a critical tool that can ensure that all detainees held in a private facility are treated with respect and dignity.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - WY