Pocatello officials say if the state of Idaho builds a new $10 million, 160-bed women's prison, they'd like it to be in their community.
A new prison at Pocatello could provide up to 75 new jobs and a $2 million payroll for a community that has had its share of recent economic setbacks.Tom Arnold, executive director of the Bannock Development Corp., plans to travel to Boise next week to recommend that if a women's prison is built, it should be in Pocatello.
The Legislature hasn't approved funding yet, but the state is under a court order to improve prison facilities for women.
Pocatello qualifies under a set of guidelines from the Permanent Building Fund Advisory Council. The Corrections Board favors Boise as the site, but the advisory council recommends projects to the Legislature for funding.
The Pocatello bid has been endorsed by the City Council, the Greater Pocatello Chamber of Commerce and, civic leaders say, a majority of Pocatello residents.
Tuesday is the deadline to submit a proposal, but an answer on site selection may not come for months.
Arnold said Friday he is cautiously optimistic, because so far, Pocatello is the only community expressing an interest.
Idaho Falls, Twin Falls and Boise also have been mentioned as possible locations, but it is doubtful that either Twin Falls or Idaho Falls will make a bid, Arnold said.
The decision to seek the prison site came after an informational meeting on Thursday conducted by Arnold. Three people offered opinions, with Chuck Hunt, an employee at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory who recently moved to Pocatello, offering the only opposing testimony.
He contended a prison could create a negative impact on the city. "We should go after an electronics company instead of a prison. Send the prison to Idaho Falls," he said.
Hunt also suggested voters should be making the final decision on whether Pocatello should go after the prison.
"I'm not here to try to sell the city on this, but opportunities like this only come once in while, and we should at least try," said Arnold.
"We don't have anything to lose, and there is a lot to gain."
Arnold plans a Tuesday meeting with Corrections officials.
Requirements set down for a prison site stipulate that it must be within 10 miles of a community with a minimum 45,000 population, must be located in southern Idaho, must have a full range of medical services, the community must support the project and the city must have either a four-year college or university for post-secondary education for both staff and inmates.
Arnold said he felt the guidelines could have been written especially for Pocatello.