By Craig Giammona
Housed in a typical warehouse-type structure at 182-22 150th Ave. near the corner of 182nd Street, the building formerly housed illegal immigrants awaiting deportation. However, the Wackenhut Immigration Detention Center transferred its operations to Elizabeth, N.J. in July. The building has since been converted into a federal prison with space for 200 medium and low-level inmates awaiting trial, according to City Councilman James Sanders Jr. (D-Laurelton), who was slated to host an emergency public meeting to solicit community opinions about the jail later this week at St. Peter's Lutheran Church on 147th Avenue in Rosedale.”This facility was snuck past the people of the 31st [Council District],” Sanders said, arguing that there was a “clear and conscious” attempt on the part of prison officials to establish and expand the jail without community involvement.Sanders toured the facility last week, prior to the meeting and said he was concerned about plans to grow the prison's inmate population from 200 to 320. Geo Group Inc., a private Florida-based corrections and detention management company that runs the jail through a contract with U.S. Marshals Service, recently acquired an adjacent building and plans to expand its capacity to upwards of 300 inmates, according to Sanders, who cited his conversations with Geo Group representatives.Sanders, who said the jail was established without community oversight or even notification, wants assurances from the company and the U.S. marshals that high-security inmates will not be housed at the facility and that the prison population, if it must expand, will not grow beyond what is currently envisioned.”What's to stop them from acquiring three or four more buildings and turning the whole thing into Fort Springfield?” Sanders asked rhetorically. “I want the community to be safe and respected.” Sanders said that one of his primary concerns about the facility is its close proximity to residential neighborhoods in his district. While the jail is adjacent to warehouses and manufacturing business, Sanders said it would take a fleeing inmate only a few minutes to reach a residential neighborhood.”If you were running, it would take about two minutes,” Sanders said.Sanders noted that Geo Group's contract with the U.S. marshals requires community consent. Representatives from the U.S. marshals and Geo Group were scheduled to be on hand at the public meeting hosted by Sanders.Reach Reporter Craig Giammona by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300 Ext. 146.