Florence long has welcomed the presence and employment of state prisons and at one time was the state’s main prison location. The town got a shock early this year with Gov. Doug Ducey’s announcement that the old Florence Complex would close. Now, however, there is a bright side.
Many state plans have been delayed by COVID-19, although the impact on the criminal justice system has resulted in fewer criminals being sentenced and a lag in prison population. That will soon change, however, although the closure plans will not.
The state long has had a challenge in filling corrections officer positions in outlying areas, and the plans have included gaining the ability to fill vacant positions at the neighboring Eyman Complex. Meanwhile, state officials apparently are making good on promises to work with town authorities to minimize the impact of the transition. And that now seems to be pointing to a redevelopment of the prison property. Town Manager Brent Billingsley says the town and state officials are approaching the situation by seeing the property as a resource, and that is a good thing.
Besides the jobs that tie into Florence’s economy, the town has built some of its infrastructure to serve the prisons. That includes having Florence Complex as a major sewer system customer. However, cooperative talks between town and state may lead to a town takeover of the Eyman Complex sewer system because operating that is not in the state’s main field of expertise. Also, the Florence Complex property has its own water wells, and that may be attractive to a buyer.
Florence Complex is very old, and its design is not conducive to operating a modern prison. Closing it will offer some efficiency to the state and basically will be an achievement for the Ducey administration. The positive, cooperative discussions between Florence and the Arizona Department of Corrections promise a good outcome for the town, and that, along with safe and efficient prisons, is what Arizonans should be able to expect.