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Town of Florence ‘startled’ by Ducey’s plan to close down prison

(AP Photo)

PHOENIX — The town of Florence says it had no idea Gov. Doug Ducey was planning to shut down its state prison until his office made the announcement Monday.

Ducey said in his State of the State address that Arizona was shutting down “a state prison,” then named Florence in a press release sent out around the end of the speech.

“The town is startled by this sudden announcement but is committed to work closely with our colleagues … to better understand the impacts of this decision and to strive to find a solution that is appropriate for our community, our residents and the many employees that call Florence home for eight to 12 hours per day,” the town said in a statement Tuesday morning.

The town said it could lose up to 3,600 prisoners and hundreds of jobs when the facility closes, equal to a $1.3 million impact.

The governor’s office said the closure will save the state $274 million over three years, and there are no plans to cut jobs.

Instead, staff will be transferred about 3 miles away to the Eyman State Prison complex, which is also in Florence.

All inmates, including those on death row, will be relocated to third-party operators and county corrections facilities, according to the governor’s office.

The execution chamber is a separate facility that is located on the prison’s grounds and does not house inmates. It is unclear if it will stay in the same location.

Florence said it is worried because it relies on inmate labor to “help beautify streets and maintain landscaping.”

“We simply cannot afford to suddenly flip a switch and allow these programs to disappear from our region,” the statement read.

The town said due to Florence State Prison’s historic significance, it hopes the state will at least consider turning it into a museum.

“If we are indeed going to close the … complex completely, there could be an opportunity to turn that into a tourism draw,” Ben Bitter, the town’s public information officer, told KTAR News 92.3 FM. 

“This is a hallmark of our community. The historic prison is featured on our logo.”

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Griselda Zetino contributed to this report. 

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