Two executives of the Florida-based company that has taken over operation of the state prison in Golden Valley introduced themselves during the December 21 Mohave County Board of Supervisors meeting. The presentation was led by James Black, Western Region Vice President for the GEO Group.
“We felt the Board did not know who we were,” Black said. He said the GEO group wants to “erase the negative stigma” that hung over the prison during its previous operation by the Utah-based Management & Training Corporation.
The Arizona Department of Corrections transferred the operations contract to GEO in early December in the aftermath of July inmate riots caused more than $2-million in damage to the prison as well as injuries to more than a dozen staff members and inmates. It was the latest headline grabbing incident arising from a prison from which three inmates escaped in 2010, leading to a double homicide in New Mexico.
A wrongful death lawsuit was filed this month on behalf of the family of Neil Early, an inmate who was fatally injured during an assault at the prison
last January. Early died following transport to Las Vegas for hospital treatment and investigators have not been able to determine who is responsible for the bathroom area attack inside the facility.
Supervisor Buster Johnson asked Black if the GEO group would enhance security, saying rhetorically that the facility had previously been operated much like a “day camp.”
Black said the GEO group has already made a number of security improvements and will continue working to provide safety for staff, prison workers and the greater county community. He also said there’s really no such thing as incident or problem free corrections settings.
“Bad things happen in good prisons. You can put every effort you can forward to prevent things from happening, but when you have 3,400 inmates and 600 staff (members) things are going to happen,” Black said. “It’s no different than some of the things that happen unfortunately in our schools or anywhere you have a large contingent of people in one place.”
Ron Credio, Deputy Bureau Administrator for the Department of Corrections (ADC), said the ADC has strengthened its on-site monitoring program to ensure that the GEO Group complies with its operations contract.
Black said the company has worked hard to assemble an all star leadership team to run the prison and work to regain public trust and support. He introduced new warden Jeffrey Wrigley, who worked 27 years for the Federal Bureau of Prisons before ten years more for GEO.
“We want to be the best neighbor possible,” Wrigley told supervisors. “We want to be the best partner for the citizens of Mohave County and partner with the Department of Corrections and all of the citizens of Arizona.”
Wrigley said he is very impressed with the knowledge and dedication displayed by the workforce he has inherited. He said the GEO Group was working to fill another 110 positions.
Wrigley pledged expanded and improved community involvement and better communication with key leaders in northwest Arizona.
Black said the GEO group operates 68 prisons throughout the United States and other facilities in South Africa, England and Australia.