Pahrump welcomes new prison -- and the jobs it brings

PAHRUMP -- Community leaders in this recession-stricken town are eagerly anticipating the arrival of about 1,000 new residents, so long as they stay where they belong behind the stun fence and razor wire.

A new medium-security detention center for federal inmates is set to open Oct. 1 in Nye County's largest community, and some say it's already giving the town a much-needed economic boost.

The privately owned and operated facility is bringing 234 new full-time jobs to town, roughly half of which have been filled by local residents.

It also will bring in as many as 1,072 inmates under a contract with the U.S. Marshals Service.

"Nevada has the highest unemployment rate in the country, and Nye County has a higher rate than the state of Nevada," County Commission Chairman Gary Hollis said during the prison's dedication ceremony last week . "This is a very good day for many people in our community who now have a good, high-paying job."

Nye County Manager Rick Osborne said unemployment in the rural county stood at 16.7 percent in June. At the very least, he said, the new prison should keep that from getting any worse.

The $83.5 million facility is owned by Corrections Corporation of America, a Tennessee-based company that builds and operates prisons across the country.

Company CEO Damon Hininger said the Nevada Southern Detention Center will house detainees awaiting federal trial in Nevada, Arizona and California, as well as convicts awaiting delivery to the federal prisons where they will serve out their sentences.

But not everyone is happy about the project.

A group of Pahrump residents calling itself Concerned Citizens for a Safe Community filed a lawsuit in federal court last year to block the detention center from opening.

The group questions the safety of the facility and its proximity to dozens of homes. Its members also allege numerous violations of federal, state and local regulations, saying the project was rammed through without sufficient input from the public.

Much of Pahrump's business community, meanwhile, has welcomed the detention center with open arms. Warden Joe Ponte said one local bank even donated office space so that CCA could hold training classes for its new employees.

Steve Conry, a vice president for CCA, described the staff members hired from Pahrump as "probably the most ready-to-go-to-work people I've seen in a long, long time."

The project has already benefited some local companies left reeling by the collapse of the housing and commercial building market.

Floyd's Construction was hired to extend water and sewer service to the detention center site, which is on a hill above the town dump roughly five miles from Pahrump's commercial center.

Mike Floyd said it was the biggest job they have landed since his parents started the business in 1963 -- a $3.5 million contract that meant seven months of work for 40 employees.

"We were down to seven people before this job started," Floyd said. "It saved our company."

With 65 detention centers and 17,000 employees nationwide, CCA is the largest player in the growing private prison industry.

The detention center in Pahrump is a state-of-the-art facility with a high level of security, Hininger said.

The detention center has a mix of dormitories and cell blocks designed to handle both high- and low-level offenders, men and women.

The 182,000-square-foot complex is ringed with layers of razor wire and the aforementioned stun fence, which will knock you to the ground and trigger an alarm if you touch it.

More than 100 cameras record all activity inside and out, and the electronic key tracing system requires fingerprint identification and sends out alerts if a key is not returned within a certain amount of time.

At the request of residents, CCA surrounded the prison with an earthen berm that almost completely hides the structure from view.

Contact reporter Henry Brean at or 702-383-0350.