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County jail privatizes, becomes shopping mall

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In a dramatic shift in policy, the El Paso County Sheriff's Department has decided to turn its Criminal Justice Center on East Las Vegas Street into a shopping mall.

"It's the latest trend in jail management," said El Paso County Sheriff John Wesley Anderson, a former opponent of privatized jails. "Our inmate population is growing and we have no way to pay for more jail space. The retail option gives us the funds we need to expand."

Anderson noted there's precedence for inmate labor. "In other jails, inmates have to work in chain gangs," he said. "Here they just work for major chain stores and fast-food chains."

Once renovations are complete, the new stockholder-owned complex -- to be called Citadel South -- will no longer need any county taxpayer support, Anderson noted.

Inmates will handle transactions from behind bars, handing merchandise to shoppers via a secure, double-door system, the sheriff said.

Inmates may also model seasonal fashions, demonstrate exercise equipment or pose next to new cars -- all behind bars.

In another privatization innovation, the jail's juvenile adjudication room will be converted to a privately run "Food Court," an upscale, buffet-style cafeteria where inmates are sentenced hard time in a wide range of fast-food chain restaurants.

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