Proposed immigrant prison could bring new jobs and new questions

From: Morning Call

A Florida company wants to build a 2,500-bed detention center in Upper Mount Bethel Township.

October 20, 2010

A private prison operator may build a 2,500-inmate detention center for illegal immigrants in the Slate Belt, a $150 million project that could bring 500 jobs and a rich flow of tax revenue.

GEO Group, a Florida company that operates more than 40 prisons in the U.S. and others abroad, is considering breaking ground just south of the Portland Industrial Park in Upper Mount Bethel Township.
The 128-acre facility would house illegal immigrants, most of whom have committed crimes and are awaiting deportation. The prison could become the area’s biggest private taxpayer, state Rep. Richard Grucela said — and for a rural district that has sought development and job growth for years, that’s a rare windfall.

“We did our research and realized you’re pushing 10 percent unemployment,” GEO Group Vice President of Business Development Cloid Shuler told a Northampton County Council committee on Wednesday. “We’d like to solve that problem.”
But questions have been raised nationwide about the company’s business practices and there are few specifics yet about the Slate Belt proposal.

“Is this the best project? The best scenario? Probably not,” said Jeff Manzi of the Bangor Area Economic Development Authority, saying he wanted to “know about the negatives.”

“What is the best project when you have 10 percent unemployment?”

GEO Group is also looking at sites in Wayne County and New Jersey, said Upper Mount Bethel Supervisor Jerry Geake. That said, the Northampton County site’s proximity to Interstate 80 and other commercial corridors puts it above the competition, Shuler said.

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