The Norman Transcript

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September 20, 2013

Vacant Oklahoma private prisons could reopen

NORMAN — Two vacant Oklahoma private prisons, in Watonga and Hinton, may be close to reopening.

The companies that operate the Diamondback Correctional Facility in Watonga and the Great Plains Correctional Facility in Hinton have posted job openings or are hosting job fairs to staff the prisons.

However, details about when the facilities could reopen and where inmates would come from are unclear. The prisons are the only vacant private prisons in the state. Four others contain inmates.

Robert Spencer, a Watonga city council member, said city officials have been told by Corrections Corporation of America, which owns the Diamondback facility, that the company is hiring 400 workers for the prison in preparation for a new contract.

Steve Owens, a spokesman for CCA, confirmed the company is hiring for a future contract at the Watonga prison but would not specify where inmates would come from or when the prison might reopen.

Inmates could come from another state, such as California, which now houses inmates at a private prison in Sayre, or through a federal agency, such as the Bureau of Prisons or Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

CCA has posted job openings for various positions at the Watonga prison, and a warden has been named, according to the CCA website.

The prison, whose capacity is about 2,100, closed in 2010 after Arizona ended its contract with the company.

Meanwhile, in Hinton, Mayor Shelly Newton said representatives from Geo Group, which operates the Great Plains facility, have been hosting job fairs in preparation for a new contract.

The Great Plains prison, which has a capacity of 2,000 inmates, closed in 2010 after Arizona also ended its contract for that facility. Newton said reopening the prison would greatly benefit Hinton’s economy. The city has about 2,000 residents.

“It’d be a good thing for Hinton,” she said.

State prison officials and legislators have talked about renewing contracts at the two private prisons to help alleviate the state’s prison overcrowding issues.

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