By S.U. Mahesh Journal Capitol Bureau SANTA FE � The Legislative Finance Committee is appraising the two private prisons in Hobbs and Santa Rosa with a possibility of turning them into state agencies. An official for Florida-based Wackenhut Corrections, which operates the prisons, said the company is willing to negotiate if New Mexico lawmakers want to purchase the
facilities in Lea and Guadalupe counties. The committee on Thursday directed General Services Secretary Steven Beffort to conduct the appraisals and
determine a fair market value on each prison. The directive comes a day after Corrections Secretary Rob Perry told lawmakers that his department is
negotiating a new contract with Wackenhut that would
allow the state to either buy or lease the two private
prisons. The Legislative Finance Committee hasn't made a decision on whether to purchase the prisons, but its chairman suggested the time is right. "Since we have a little bit of more money, it would be a good thing to consider," Sen. Ben Altamirano, D-Silver City, said referring to a $367 million surplus expected this fiscal year.
Altamirano, who also chairs the Senate Finance
Committee, said he didn't know if his colleagues support
buying the prisons. But he added, "I personally support it if the price is right."
Retiring Sen. Billy McKibben, R-Hobbs, said the
Legislature should use the surplus to buy both prisons as a
one-time capital investment. "I think it would be a prudent thing to buy the darn things," McKibben said. During the 1998 legislative session, a proposal for the state to buy both prisons for $68 million, while they were still under construction, passed the Senate but died in a House committee.
The 1,200-bed Hobbs prison opened in May 1998. The Santa Rosa facility with 600 beds began accepting inmates in January 1999. Wayne Calabrese, president of Wackenhut, said he couldn't put a fair market value on the prisons because
several improvements have been made to both since they
were opened. "We have to get an appraisal of our own," Calabrese said Thursday in a phone interview from Palm Beach Garden, Fla. Wackenhut and its partners are willing to negotiate any
proposals to sell the prisons, he said. The proposed corrections department contract with Wackenhut also calls for a per diem increase from $49.88 a day to $53 a day per inmate. That would cost New Mexico taxpayers an additional $1.2 million a year to house state inmates in private prisons.