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Resurrected Lovejoy jail to house detainees

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Beginning in February, the Lovejoy jail, abandoned by the county with the construction of the Harold R. Banke Justice Center, will once again house prisoners.

The 576-bed facility will be used to detain people for the United States Marshals Service, according to GEO Group, Inc., the company leasing the structure from the county.

GEO Group, Inc., is leasing the 15-acre, 192,000-square-foot Robert A. Deyton Detention Facility from the county for about $3.5 million a year, on a 20-year contract. The company recently signed a 20-year contract with the Marshals to house their detainees at the 11850 Hastings Bridge Road facilities, for about $16 million a year.

According to the company, work is underway to add another 192 beds to the detention center, which could bring the company's annual income from the facility to about $20 million. The expansion is expected to be completed by the end of 2008.

GEO Group, Inc., Spokesman Pablo E. Paez said enough renovation work has been done to the buildings that he is confident the company can safely and securely contain detainees.

The jail was vacated by the county in 2001, because the structure was over-crowded and rapidly deteriorating.

At one point, around 800 prisoners were being kept in the jail, which was built in 1985 to house between 400 and 600. The new jail is also connected to the courthouse, so prisoners can be transported to and from court through interior hallways, rather than vans or buses.

GEO Group, Inc., is a private company which runs 67 prisons and detention centers around the world. The company contracts with governments, including Australia, South Africa and the United Kingdom, and runs a state mental hospital in Pembroke Pines, Fla.

It also has the world's largest privately-operated detention center in Pecos, Texas, with more than 3,500 detainees, and the Guantanamo Bay Migrant Operations Center in Cuba.

Shares in the company were selling on the New York Stock Exchange Monday for $26.97. In a release to shareholders last week, George C. Zoley, the company's chief executive officer, said the Lovejoy jail "will play an important role in helping meet the demand for Federal bed space, as a regional detention center in the southeastern United States."

County officials had originally hoped the jail would be turned into something else, asking, in the request for proposals, for "creativity" in looking at the "unique facility," and suggesting a "high density, mix of uses."

Only three companies submitted proposals, however, and all were interested in using the 192,000-square-foot facility for a privately-run prison.