SALT LAKE CITY -- Mayor Ralph Becker blasted a privately-run halfway house for federal inmates amid claims that it may be expanding.
But the operators of the facility insisted to FOX 13 they have no plans to expand -- they just want to keep operating.
"We don't need another one, we don't want another one and we're going to do everything we can to stop it," Becker told reporters at a City Hall news conference on Tuesday.
The mayor claimed GEO Group wanted to expand its facility at 1585 West 2100 South. He said he found out in a letter sent to his office, as required by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
"We are researching every possible approach that we can take to prevent this facility from expanding and being located in Salt Lake City," Becker said. "That includes looking at our zoning."
The mayor said Salt Lake City's west side neighborhoods have a disproportionately high number of community correctional facilities. He's also fighting efforts to locate a state prison near 7200 West and I-80.
"I am strongly opposed to this and any additional correctional facilities in Salt Lake City," the mayor said.
In addition to the federal halfway house run by GEO Group, there are three halfway houses run by the Utah Dept. of Corrections (a fourth is on the border in West Valley City) as well as a parole office. There are also numerous substance abuse treatment centers that have transitional housing.
"I think enough is enough," said Salt Lake City Councilman James Rogers, whose district has many of the halfway houses. "We have more than 50-percent of all halfway houses in the state that are located on the west side of Salt Lake City. It's time we look at other places."
Rogers and Salt Lake City Councilman Kyle LaMalfa signed on to a letter with Becker opposing GEO Group's federal application, complaining it is "patently unfair that our city's neighborhoods continue to suffer the negative impact of transitional facilities -- no matter how well run."
In a statement to FOX 13 late Tuesday, GEO Group insisted it had no expansion plans beyond the 115 beds it currently has, but merely sought to extend its existing contract with the federal government.
"There are no plans to expand the Salt Lake Residential Reentry Center. The GEO Group has operated the Center for 20 years under strict contractual requirements set by the Federal government as well as rigorous standards set by leading third-party accreditation entities including the American Correctional Association. GEO is currently pursuing a continued contract for the management of the existing Center, and there are no plans for an expansion," the group said in the statement.
Becker's office told FOX 13 that it was scrutinizing GEO Group's claims late Tuesday, but still opposed the heavy presence of halfway houses in the city.
Outside the nondescript building off Redwood Road that serves as GEO Group's halfway house, people came and went after checking in with their supervising officers. Next door at the Shahrazad Market, a Middle Eastern foods store and restaurant, owner Abed Abouhassan said he had no troubles with the halfway house.
"We haven't had any problem with them," he said. "As a matter of fact, we've hired two of their gals and they turned out to be excellent employees. I think everyone's deserving of a second chance and we tried to give them that."