The Town of Florence says they had no idea of Governor Doug Ducey's intentions to close the Florence state prison until he announced it publicly during his State of the State address on Monday, Jan. 13.
In a statement posted on the town's website, it says staff were "startled" by the sudden announcement but they are "committed to work closely with our colleagues at the State, in the State Legislature, at Pinal County, and with our partners at our local correctional facilities to better understand the impacts of this decision and to strive to find a solution that is appropriate for our community, our residents, and the many employees that call Florence home for eight to twelve hours per day."
The Arizona State Prison Complex in Florence is Arizona's largest and oldest prison. It has existed for over 100 years and currently houses about 3,800 incarcerated men.
In his address, Ducey said all existing staff at the Florence prison will be relocated to Eyman prison, less than three miles away. The Governor’s Office says additional staff will allow the Eyman complex to be fully staffed, eliminating vacancies and “providing inmates with better access to programs and other services, such as enhanced second chance programs.”
They say no correctional employees will lose their jobs as a result of the move, and taxpayers will save an estimated $247 million over three years.
While their jobs are still secured for now, the Town of Florence believes this new development will still have lasting effects on their community.
Their statement says:
"We are concerned for our residents, who for so many years have shouldered the burdens and stigmas associated with being called a 'prison town.' Without legislative action, resources currently used in the community could dry up and could radically change this historic community and the county seat of the state’s fastest growing county. Preliminary estimates on impact show that the Town could lose up to 3,600 prisoners and hundreds of permanent jobs upon the closure of the facility. The loss of these residents and their associated revenue could equate to a $1.3 million direct impact on Town services (or about 13% of its total state-shared revenue). To a rural community like ours, this is not inconsequential."
The Florence closure is part of Ducey's shift toward a more treatment-based approach to corrections. This decision was coupled with the announcement that the Arizona Department of Corrections will be rebranded into the "Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry."
While closing the state's largest prison is a statement within itself, the effects it will have on the incarcerated population are still unknown. Ducey's plan offers no details on whether inmates at Florence will be eligible for early releases, nor does it provide a path to reduce prison populations at all.
Florence still anticipates a need for carceral facilities, adding in their statement that "should new facilities be desired, Florence has available land that is zoned and planned for this type of use."
Their full statement can be viewed here.