A small mountain town shows prisons can be good neighbors

  • On guard at a federal prison in Fremont County, Colorado

    Canon City Daily Record
 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, Colorado's prison slayer.

When a new $223 million maximum security federal prison was recently completed in Caûon City, Colo., people began to call the central Colorado community the "Alcatraz of the Rockies."

But prisons are nothing new for Fremont County: it first hosted a prison in 1871, before Colorado was a state, and it hasn't looked back since.

Today, nine state prisons and four federal prisons provide the economic backbone of the county, says Steve Madone, executive director of the Fremont County Economic Corporation, a private nonprofit group. One-half of the county payroll comes from public-sector jobs related to the prisons, he says.

But Madone, who left the county at age 17 only to return last year at age 45, says the county's reliance on prisons hasn't deterred other businesses from settling in the mountain-ringed valley, and it hasn't destroyed the county's small-town feel.

"We still have clean air, and we're still a good place for families," says Madone. "The prisons have been good for us."

The county unemployment rate is now at just 2.9 percent and the median income has grown to $30,400. The county's population also jumped from 32,000 in 1990 to 38,000 in 1994. Of that population, 6,200 are state and federal prisoners. The only drawback, says Madone, is that most of the jobs available at the prisons are entry-level. Supervisors are transferred in from elsewhere.

Madone says that although Fremont County would consider additional prisons, it is making a push to diversify its economy. His group has encouraged the county to offer sweet deals - including free land and tax breaks - to new businesses considering a move to Fremont County.

The strategy seems to have worked. Within the last 10 months, six new companies bringing 130 jobs have come to the airport industrial park, he says, including an electronics manufacturer from San Jose, Calif.

Not everyone in Fremont County welcomes the prisons. River-rafting companies using the Arkansas River have long complained that every time a big storm hits, sewage ponds from the prisons overflow and pollute the river.

B.J. Plaskitt, a reporter with the Longmont Times-Call who has covered the prisons in the past, says real estate values are depressed in a five-block section of Canon City where the families of inmates live.

But overall, Canon City has a low crime rate, Plaskitt says, and entry-level prison officers - many with limited educations - earn as much as a teacher.

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Mountain Time Arts, a Bozeman-based nonprofit, is seeking an Executive Director. MTA advocates for and produces public artworks that advance social & environmental justice in...
  • BEND AREA HOME WITH AMAZING CASCADE PEAKS VIEW
    Enjoy rural peacefulness and privacy with one of the most magnificent Cascade Mountain views in sunny Central Oregon! Convenient location only eight miles from Bend's...
  • MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Marketing Communications Manager to join our...
  • EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks an Editor-In-Chief to join our senior team...
  • RESEARCH FELLOW (SOUTHWESTERN U.S. ENERGY TRANSITION)
    The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) in partnership with the Grand Canyon Trust is seeking a full-time Fellow to conduct topical research...
  • LENDER OWNED FIX & FLIP
    2 houses on 37+ acres. Gated subdivision, Penrose Colorado. $400k. Possible lender financing. Bob Kunkler Brokers Welcome.
  • ONCE OR TWICE
    A short historical novel set in central Oregon based on the the WWII Japanese high altitude ballon that exploded causing civilian casualties. A riveting look...
  • HISTORIC LODGE AND RESTAURANT - FULLY EQUIPPED
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
  • HOUSE FOR SALE
    Rare mountain property, borders National Forest, stream nearby. Pumicecrete, solar net metering, radiant heat, fine cabinets, attic space to expand, patio, garden, wildlife, insulated garage,...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER- NORTHERN PLAINS RESOURCE COUNCIL
    Want to organize people to protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life with Northern Plains Resource Council? Apply now-...
  • CONSERVATION MANAGER
    The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) is hiring an energetic and motivated Conservation Manager to develop and complete new conservation projects and work within...
  • POLLINATOR OASIS
    Seeking an experienced, hardworking partner to help restore a desert watershed/wetland while also creating a pollinator oasis at the mouth of an upland canyon. Compensation:...
  • ELLIE SAYS IT'S SAFE! A GUIDE DOG'S JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
    by Don Hagedorn. A story of how lives of the visually impaired are improved through the love and courage of guide dogs. Available on Amazon.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
    All positions available: Sales Representative, Accountant and Administrative Assistant. As part of our expansion program, our University is looking for part time work from home...
  • RUBY, ARIZONA CARETAKER
    S. Az ghost town seeking full-time caretaker. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition, based in Ely, Nevada is looking for a new executive director to replace the long-time executive director who is retiring at...
  • STEVE HARRIS, EXPERIENCED PUBLIC LANDS/ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY
    Comment Letters - Admin Appeals - Federal & State Litigation - FOIA -