Residents petition against for-profit detention center
By Karen Caffarini Post-Tribune correspondent March 30, 2014 8:40PM
More than 150 people attended an educational forum on what effects an immigrant detention center could have on Hobart. | Karen Caffarini/For the Post-Tribune
Updated: May 1, 2014 7:40AM
Darlene Vassil and Kathy O’Neill had no trouble Sunday getting residents from the Glenwood neighborhood to sign a petition opposing the possible construction of a for-profit immigrant detention center in the city.
The neighborhood they were canvassing is west of Liverpool Road off 57th Avenue, not too far from the 40-acre parcel on 49th Avenue purchased by The GEO Group, a Florida-based builder and operator of for-profit immigrant detention centers and prisons.
“You know I do,” Bob Dittman, a resident of Mississippi Street, said when asked if he would like to sign the petition.
“Throw the sign in the window, too,” Dittman added when the two women asked if he wanted a no prison sign for his window, as well.
Vassil and O’Neill were among some 20 members of the Concerned Citizens of Hobart going door-to-door through various city neighborhoods Sunday seeking signatures for the petition, which asks the City Council to keep Hobart “the Friendly City” and support the group in preventing the construction of a for-profit immigrant prison.
The citizens group formed after learning of the possibility that a for-profit detention center or prison could be built at the site.
City Council members and Mayor Brian Snedecor have repeatedly said they have not received any proposals for the land and, therefore, have nothing to respond to.
A GEO spokesman stated last week that the company is just introducing itself to the community and has no specific plans for the property at this time.
“Currently, there is no formal proposal from the federal government for any facility, and we hope the misinformation that is being distributed does not confuse area residents,” the company stated in an email.
GEO said it believes there are strong opportunities for economic growth, investment and jobs in Hobart.
“We know that is a goal that everyone shares,” the company stated.
Resident Mark Cottom said such a development could be decent, depending on how many jobs it would bring, but added he would rather see something else at that site. Cottom also signed the petition.
Resident Lindsay Rieck said her husband works for the federal government and thinks the same as she does; there is a better place where such a facility could be built.
None of the residents approached by the two women Sunday while accompanied by the Post-Tribune refused to sign the petition. The Post-Tribune reporter did not identify herself until after the residents agreed to sign.
Vassil said she’s been gathering signatures for several days and has been getting the same reaction.
“The only people who haven’t signed the petition are the ones who weren’t home,” she said.
O’Neill said the petitions will be given to the council member for the district in which the signatures were gathered and the mayor.