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Meeks threatens to block Spg. Gardens jail funding

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The Geo group, the Florida-based prison company that operates the jail, declared its intention in January to expand the facility's capacity from 200 to 370 beds within the year. However, according a spokesman for the Department of Justice, which oversees the jail, no expansion plan is currently under review.The prison, while operated by Geo, is overseen by The Office of the Federal Detention Trustee, which falls under the purview of the Department of Justice and is responsible for federal detainees who are housed at private facilities. A spokesman for the office said that the rigorous vetting process that would occur should an existing jail want to expand has not begun for the Geo facility."Any expansion plan would include a very vigorous vetting process," said Drew Wade. "As far as our office is concerned, that process has not started."Walter McCaffrey, a local spokesman for Geo, said the company's plans have not changed. However, according to McCaffrey, there is still no start date for the construction. Geo's contract, in fact, is up for renewal at the end of May and U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) said he is threatening to hold back the jail's funding if the community's needs are not met.Meeks is also concerned that he was not contacted when the prison's contract was transferred to the U.S. Marshals. Meeks said the federal marshals have "apologized profusely" for that oversight, and Wade too emphasized that the Office of the Federal Prison Trustee is "committed to working with communities and local leaders before putting facilities or expanding facilities in neighborhoods."The community, which would ideally like to see the facility pack up and leave southeast Queens, is vehemently opposed to the expansion of the prison, which is located at 182-22 150th Ave., just blocks from a school and a residential neighborhood.Geo announced in January that it had bought an adjacent warehouse and planned to increase the jail's capacity to 370 beds. The mere presence of federal prisoners in Springfield Gardens had become public just days earlier, after a businessman called Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton) and complained that a competitor was bidding an extremely high amount for a warehouse. Sanders then discovered that federal prisoners awaiting trial and sentencing were being housed at a facility that most in the community believed had closed.The jail had previously housed illegal immigrants, but Geo's contract was transferred to the U.S. Marshals in June, when the Department of Homeland Security decided to move its immigration operation to New Jersey.Reach Reporter Craig Giammona by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300 ext. 146.

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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