Florence Prison Shutdown to Have Financial Impact at Town, State

Gov. Doug Ducey’s announcement of plans to close Arizona State Prison Complex-Florence during January’s State of the State speech took many Town of Florence leaders and residents by surprise, and officials are now assessing its potential impact to the community. 

A “white paper” released by the Town at the beginning of February estimates Florence’s government and economy receives more than $3 million in direct benefit per year from the prison complex, Intergovernmental and Communications Manager Benjamin Bitter said. 

“While the timeline for any closure remains uncertain, largely due to the fact that any transition would require state funding and the state budget is still in its early negotiation phase at the Capitol, we are working hard to ensure that our residents and the employees that work in our community will retain their jobs and high quality of life,” he said. 

The white paper, which Bitter said will be a “living document,” said expected impacts to the Town include: 

  • Loss of $1.5 million in population-based state-shared revenue and county transportation tax, with the largest single hit being more than $465,000 in state-shared income tax. 
  • $1.25 million in Town wastewater fees for service to the complex. 
  • Loss of 1,000 potential jobs after the consolidation of staff from the Florence complex with that of the Eyman prison complex, also within the Town’s boundaries. 
  • Increased pressure on emergency response to the Eyman complex, which requires a 5-mile detour due to its location past a bridge insufficient to handle the weight of a fire engine. 
  • Increased slum and blight concerns around the Florence complex, which the Town has been trying to mitigate over the last few years. 

Most state revenue passed through to municipalities is based on population and Florence has 26,419 residents, according to the most recent state estimate. This includes 17,000 inmates, and of those about 3,600 are at the Florence complex. 

Ducey’s office said following the speech the closure will save $247 million in maintenance and repair costs to the facility over three years and would allow for full staffing and better security at the Eyman complex. No current employees of the Florence prison will lose their jobs to the closure, the governor’s office said. 

It also said the Florence complex’s approximately 3,600 prisoners will be transferred to a combination of county jails and third-party operated correctional facilities, though officials from multiple Arizona counties said in the wake of the speech they have little or no capacity to take state prisoners. 

Geoff Paulson, an analyst for the state’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee, told the House Appropriations Committee on Feb. 12 Ducey is requesting $82 million in his budget over the next two fiscal years to fund transfer of prisoners to other locations. The governor’s staff is working with county officials around the state, as well as private prisons, to identify how many beds might be available, he added. 

The oldest of nine correctional facilities within the Town’s borders, the Florence complex opened in 1908 and houses the state’s execution chamber, last used in 2014. 

Under the governor’s plan the execution chamber would be the only part of the complex kept open at the Florence complex, but leaving it there could limit the options for reusing the property, Paulson said.

At least two members of the appropriations committee pointed out the net cost for closing the Florence complex per year going forward is an additional $50 million in the governor’s budget, when contracts to house prisoners at other locations and other costs are included. 

Rep. Regina Cobb (R-Kingman), the committee chair, said she has the same concerns, but “I think it’s a non-win situation here. We haven’t kept up with prison infrastructure for a long time, and we’re trying to make up for past times,” when a small fraction of repair needs at state prisons were being funded each year.