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Helping folks help themselves

Published August 22, 2004 12:08 am

Centerville company manages job-training centers, prisons By Michael Chandler The Salt Lake Tribune
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2004, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

CENTERVILLE - Robert Marquardt has had many jobs in 78 years.

His father died when he was 10, so Marquardt worked as a carpenter's assistant for 31 cents an hour in Dayton, Ohio, to help his family. He cleaned and repaired furnaces, sold flowers and built tools. At 17, he started his first business, a tree-topping service, and recruited workers from his high school football team.

Marquardt, who moved to Ogden to work for defense contractor Morton Thiokol in 1958, credits his early job experiences for giving him the self-confidence and direction to achieve a long, successful career.

It's not surprising, then, that as his final commercial venture, he went into the business of training the young and disadvantaged for meaningful careers.

Centerville-based Management & Training Corp. (MTC) operates Job Corps centers - federally funded vocational training programs for low-income young people - and more recently, private prisons.

Although Job Corps accounts for more than half the closely held company's $500 million in annual revenue, MTC's private prison business is growing.

The company has become the nation's third-largest operator of secure adult facilities and soon may vie for a contract to operate a new women's prison in Utah.

Meanwhile, intense public debate continues over whether private contractors can provide safe and well-managed facilities, and MTC's civil-rights record remains under scrutiny due to employee O. Lane McCotter's ties to the now-notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Marquardt first became acquainted with Job Corps in the 1960s. As director of the education and training division for Morton Thiokol, he oversaw some of the earliest centers.

In 1980, the company divested itself of its less profitable ventures, and Marquardt opted to leave rather than watch the program he had come to love slip away. He and some colleagues borrowed $3.5 million to buy out the contracts and they started MTC.

"After 25 years of marketing bigger bombs to kill more people, it got to me," he said of Morton Thiokol's primary product line. So he put his energy into growing a more positive company. And grow it did.

In its first year of operation, MTC had 1,000 employees in three Job Corps centers and grossed $29 million. Last year, the company employed 6,700 employees in 28 Job Corps centers and satellites and 12 correctional facilities and brought in nearly $500 million.

Now, MTC operates in 21 states, the District of Columbia, Australia, Canada and the Marshall Islands. It claims to be Utah's fifth-largest private employer, but only 450 of those employees actually work in the state.

Apart from the headquarters, Clearfield Job Corps is the only major facility MTC runs in Utah.

Promontory, a minimum security prison in Draper that offered work-release and substance abuse programs, used to be managed by MTC. The five-year contract was not renewed in 2001, though, because of corrections budget cuts.

In contrast, MTC's Clearfield Job Corps contract has been renewed continuously. The center is one of the oldest and largest programs in the country.

Funded completely by the Department of Labor, the 83-acre facility, which looks like a cross between a leafy college campus and a penitentiary, provides housing, education and training to about 1,400 young people from low-income families around the country.

Lingering in the day room of what corps members refer to as the ghetto dorms, formerly old naval warehouses, several residents talk hopefully about what they want to be when they finish their programs: a chef, a mechanic, a massage therapist, a homicide investigator or a detective novelist.

Terence Rayford, an 18-year-old from Salinas, Calif., says he wants to be a medical technician.

Outside, 23-year-old "Tiny," easily over 6 feet and 200 pounds, from Huntington Beach, Calif., says he'll be licensed and trained to rebuild the engine on any big rig truck when he graduates.

From Job Corps, a semi-residential program with all the reform-minded services that a good prison needs, Marquardt said it was a natural transition to the corrections business.

MTC's experience in education was the legacy it wanted to carry over. Since its first private prison contract in Eagle Mountain, Calif., in 1987, MTC officials say they have tried to maintain strong training programs.

They're not interested in "warehousing inmates" or just providing "three hots [meals] and a cot," said Mike Murphy, MTC's director of marketing for corrections. He said the company's goal is to rehabilitate offenders, so they will be prepared to re-enter society and stay out of prison.

Keeping in line with this mission, Murphy said the company has sought out mostly lower-level security prison contracts, which tend to support more educational opportunities, rather than working in maximum security prisons, where inmates may be locked in a cell for 23 hours a day. "Our guys have hope. That's the difference," said Carl Stuart, MTC communications director.

But as the company has grown, it has started to take on more and different risks, said Judith Greene, a criminal justice policy analyst based in New York. Those include moving into international markets and higher-level security facilities. The company is not "limited" to lower-security facilities, said MTC's director of development Michael May, and its prison in Ontario, Canada, is known as a "supermax."

"As they stretch themselves, it seems they have run into more problems," Greene said.

Some of those problems have become well-publicized since McCotter, current executive director of business development at MTC, was pulled into the spotlight as one of the government-appointed officials who oversaw the reopening of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Although he was not present when the abuses in the Iraqi prison occurred, his current employer's history has been called into question.

One problem presented itself in the form of a searing Department of Justice report, which found unsafe conditions, understaffing, abuse, and insufficient medical care at an MTC-run jail in Santa Fe, N.M. - issues that allegedly contributed to the death of at least one inmate.

MTC claims it inherited many of the problems from the jail's previous manager, Houston-based Cornell Corrections. Since it took over operation of the facility in October 2001, only seven months before the federal inspection, company officials argue they had not had time to make repairs. MTC's contract is up for renewal this fall, and Murphy said a deal is close.

In an MTC-run minimum security facility in Eagle Mountain, Calif., two inmates were killed in a riot in October, 2003, an "unprecedented" tragedy, California Department of Corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton said. "We never had an incident where an inmate died at a community corrections facility." MTC responded that the facility had been well-staffed and operated, but it was scheduled to close at the end of the year, and a large influx of new inmates ready for release created a volatile mix among the population.

"When you are dealing with human beings, it's difficult to project what the problems are going to be," Murphy said, pointing out that publicly-run facilities have problems, too.

It's hard to prove definitively whether MTC's prison-based rehabilitative programs work. The company claims it can lower recidivism rates, but it does not have data to back it up. Released inmates are difficult to track because they are ultimately the responsibility of the state, Murphy said.

Plus, most inmates do not spend their entire sentence in one facility, and could likely divide time between public and private facilities, muddying results data, said James Austin, a professor of criminology at George Washington University.

But Marquardt does not need convincing that MTC's approach is working. Sitting in his Ogden living room, in a palm tree-emblazoned shirt, he looks like he's retired or about to go fishing for albacore from the deck of his boat in Ensenada, Mexico.

He is still hard at work. Though his son Scott has taken over as CEO of the company, Marquardt keeps a hand in daily operations as chairman, and he is involved in a number of philanthropic activities, most notably designing and fund raising for the largest outdoor dinosaur park in the country in Ogden.

Any chance he has, he will give visitors an earful about the potential for education to improve lives.

"Most people with no career or education have not tasted success," said Marquardt. His goal is to give people that first victory. After that, he says, they "will push the bar up for themselves."

Management & Training Corp.

Headquarters: Centerville

What it does: Operates Job Corps centers and private correctional facilities

Where it operates: 21 states, the District of Columbia, Australia, Canada and the Marshall Islands

President and chief executive: Scott Marquardt

Chairman and co-founder: Robert Marquardt

2003 sales: $495 million

Employees: 6,700 worldwide, 450 in Utah