Concerns escalate as residents wait to hear if Florence Prison will close

Florence residents concerned over prison closing

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - In January, Gov. Doug Ducey announced plans to close the Florence Prison during his State of the State Address.

Business owners and town leaders said they are concerned if the prison closes, the town will take a financial hit.

The Florence Fudge Company is located just off of Main Street in one of the town’s historic buildings.

There is an added pressure for the restaurant to succeed.

Cory Ecenbarger said her church owns the restaurant and uses it as a ministry.

“I tithe all of the money I make every week here to the pregnancy center. The ladies and gentlemen, they take parenting classes and it’s like a mini Target in there. They get to pick out whatever they want for their babies,” Ecenbarger said.

Ecenbarger said a lot of her customers work down the street at the Florence Prison.

She is nervous if it closes, she will lose a good portion of her customers.

“That can affect me, that can affect the pregnancy center,” Ecenbarger said.

According to Gov. Ducey’s proposed budget, the closure of the 112-year-old prison will save more than $151 million in known building repairs.

“That being the second territorial prison, it is one of the oldest. I’m sure it is very costly to maintain. I think financially, it kind of makes sense,” said Cathy Adam, president of the Pinal County Historical Society Museum.

Adam said, while she understands the governor’s proposal, the news still came as a shock.

“My wish would have been is that this could have been worked in more gradually with the town so we were aware and started making plans, but I guess that is just not to be,” Adam said.

The budget states the closure would not lead to the termination of corrections employees. The majority of them would be transferred just minutes away to the Eyman Prison complex, which is short-staffed.

“I am sure that’s true they will be offered jobs," Adam said. “There is something to be said for how that really happens. The devil is in the details.”

Adam said she is concerned if the Florence Prison closes, certain programs may not be transferred to Eyman.

“It’s a big hit. The fact that this museum, and even around this town, you’ll notice it is immaculate," she said. “That is prison work crews. I know for me as a nonprofit museum, the size of our yard and taking care of this, that is a financial hit to me that I have never really had to worry about.”

“The college initiated an auto body shop class on site at the prison for official certification," Adam said. "They needed a guinea pig to work on and we have historic fire trucks. That is invaluable to a small museum like me. I would never be able to afford to pay an auto body shop to restore these trucks.”

PCHS Museum has a partnership with the Town of Florence, the Florence Prison and Central Arizona College to restore fire trucks in the museum's collection.
PCHS Museum has a partnership with the Town of Florence, the Florence Prison and Central Arizona College to restore fire trucks in the museum's collection. (Source: Pinal County Historical Society Museum)

Budget talks continue at the capitol, with Florence representatives saying the governor’s plan is an, “outside the box idea that is worthy of further exploration.”

Still, residents remain uneasy.

“More questions than answers and until we get a little more information, there is a lot of scare going on,” Adam said.

Copyright 2020 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.