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
  • LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    The Land and Water Conservation Director is a full-time salaried position with the Mountain Area Land Trust in Evergreen, CO. The successful candidate will have...
  • ARIZONA PROGRAM MANAGER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks an Arizona Program Manager. The Arizona Program Manager works...
  • CROWN OF THE CONTINENT COMMUNITY CONSERVATION SPECIALIST
    THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY is seeking a Community Conservation Specialist, for the Crown of the Continent DEPARTMENT: Conservation CLASSIFICATION: Grade 6 Specialist/Representative (Low of $54K) REPORTS...
  • ASSISTANT FARM DIRECTOR
    About The Organization Building community through fresh vegetables is at the heart of the Sisters-based non-profit, Seed to Table Oregon. Based on a four-acre diversified...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • DYNAMIC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    VARD is seeking an Executive Director to lead a small legal & planning staff dedicated to the health and sustainability of Teton Valley Idaho and...
  • WATER PROJECT MANAGER, UPPER SAN PEDRO (ARIZONA)
    Based in Tucson or Sierra Vista, AZ., the Upper San Pedro Project Manager develops, manages, and advances freshwater conservation programs, plans, and methods focusing on...
  • CAMPAIGNS DIRECTOR
    Southeast Alaska Conservation is hiring. Visit https://www.seacc.org/about/hiring for info. 907-586-6942 [email protected]
  • FINANCE & GRANTS MANAGER
    The Blackfoot Challenge, located in Ovando, MT, seeks a self-motivated, detail-oriented individual to conduct bookkeeping, financial analysis and reporting, and grant oversight and management. Competitive...
  • WADE LAKE CABINS, CAMERON MT
    A once in a lifetime opportunity to live and run a business on the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes in SW Montana....
  • CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, BOOKS, CULTURE AND COMMENTARY (PART-TIME, CONTRACT)
    High Country News is seeking a Contributing Editor for Books, Culture and Commentary to assign and edit inquisitive, inspiring, and thought-provoking content for HCN in...
  • STATEWIDE COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    ABOUT US Better Wyoming is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization that educates, organizes, and mobilizes Wyoming residents on behalf of statewide change. Learn more at...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    TwispWorks is a 501(c)3 that promotes economic and cultural vitality in the mountainous Methow Valley, the eastern gateway to North Cascades National Park in Washington...
  • CLEAN ENERGY ADVOCATE OR DIRECTOR
    Location: Helena, Montana Type: Permanent, full time after 1-year probationary period. Reports to: Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs. Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state...
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Restore Hetch Hetchy, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, seeks experienced development professional to identify and engage individuals and institutions who are inspired to help underwrite...
  • PUBLIC LANDS COUNSEL
    The successful candidate will be the organization's lead counsel on public lands issues, including reviewing federal administrative actions and proposed policy and helping to shape...
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!