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JUNEAU - An attempt to scale back the size of a private prison in Whittier and expand state prisons elsewhere failed Friday.
The House voted down three proposed amendments to a bill calling for a 1,000-bed private prison. A vote on the bill itself was scheduled for today.
Rep. Eric Croft, an Anchorage Democrat, proposed shrinking the Whittier prison to 250 beds and expanding existing state prisons in Fairbanks, Seward, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and Kenai. Croft said that would allow more inmates to be closer to their home communities and would let the state start small with a private prison and see how well it performs.
Rep. John Harris, a Valdez Republican, objected, saying House Bill 498 would not accomplish its purpose of reducing costs with that change. Cornell Companies, which would build and operate the prison under the proposal before the Legislature, has based its project on the economies of scale that would result from one large prison.
The bill, which is sponsored by the House Finance Committee, calls for the state to enter into a 25-year contract with the city of Whittier to provide prison space. The city of Whittier would contract with Cornell to build and operate the prison.