Prisonville, Florida: Low Taxes and Big Yards, All for the Price of a Box Full of Immigrants | Feature | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida


Prisonville, Florida: Low Taxes and Big Yards, All for the Price of a Box Full of Immigrants

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For Di Scipio, the email was proof that the town was moving forward at full steam while Poliakoff did everything legal to keep residents in the dark.

Marygay Chaples, a long-haired great-grandmother with a sharp tongue and a big gun, lives on a farm on a corner of Dykes Road in Southwest Ranches. She came out here 55 years ago, she says, with the Dykes family and two others. The area's early pioneers, they traveled along the levee at Griffin Road to reach a place full of nothing but swamp and pastures.

"There was nothing to the west or the south," Chaples recalls, sitting on her side porch as horses graze in the background. "Nothing to the east, nothing to the north. This was a one-lane road made of debris we pulled out of the ditch. It looked like the Everglades. There were fires — I've got photographs of my fence posts burning."

Chaples has appreciated the work of fences ever since. She mediates town disputes and helps people deal with legal issues, having become a sort of liaison to local government. She has a live-and-let-live attitude about her neighbors, including the wealthy celebrities: athletes such as Udonis Haslem and Jason Taylor, and other people who don't want to be noticed — or taxed.

"We don't care," Chaples says. "We don't bother them. But we will fight for them if we need to."

She's also a firm supporter of the detention center and takes offense when relative newcomers get personal.

"It really angers us for people to attack the town and our elected officials and make wild accusations, all because they don't want a prison," she says.

Her strong belief in property rights — hers is the only place in town still zoned for a slaughterhouse — also informs her support of CCA's plans. In fact, the company has owned its land, with prison-friendly zoning, since before the town existed.

"The new jail planned for southwest Broward County will go in a barren area where the county puts things that nobody wants," wrote David Fleshler and John Maines of the Sun-Sentinel. That statement holds true today — the site is between a county dump and a women's prison — but it was written back in 1998.

CCA had just purchased the 24-acre property. The company had originally scoped out the area in 1991 after a request from the then-sheriff to build a "mega-jail" for 4,000 inmates. Those plans fell through, but CCA stuck around and bought the land. It could shop around for inmates later — essentially making a long-term bet that South Florida would turn more criminal.

Before Southwest Ranches incorporated in 2000, the lawyers for local homeowners' associations lobbied the Florida Legislature to let the town include the CCA plot — which lay completely outside its proposed borders, surrounded by unincorporated land and the city of Pembroke Pines. Town founders theorized that if they scooped up this outlying parcel, it would be a flowing well of money: Once CCA built a prison, it would pay taxes to fill town coffers. CCA now estimates that it will pay more than $1.5 million a year in local and state taxes.

In 2005, Town Administrator John Canada oversaw the signing of a contract between the town and CCA. The prison company would pay the town a one-time fee of $600,000. Additionally, CCA promised the town a 3 to 4 percent cut of any daily fee it received for housing prisoners. If nothing else, the contract could be shown to prospective government agencies to prove that CCA had a good relationship with the town and was ready to build.

"It was one of the better negotiations [Canada] did," says Don Maines, a Town Council member at the time and a supporter of the detention center plan. "That site is zoned for the worst chemical waste dump you could put out there." He calls the less-toxic current proposal "a win-win situation."

Town officials estimated that the CCA deal would bring in a million dollars a year, not counting taxes. In 2006, the year after the contract was signed, that was equal to more than one-third of the town's property-tax revenue.

Chaples points out that CCA could go ahead and build a regular prison there — with criminal inmates — rather than pursue the ICE contract. "To me, it's a better deal to have an immigration facility than to have a prison," she says. Detainees at the facility would not necessarily have criminal records.

One of Di Scipio's requests netted him a trove of inside information: six months' worth of emails sent and received by former (now deceased) Town Administrator Charlie Lynn.

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Stefan Kamph
Contact: Stefan Kamph

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