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Raymondville Private Prisons and Prison Scandals Have Long History

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Yesterday, Kathleen reported that detention center protests have spread from big protests outside T. Don Hutto and civil disobedience at CCA’s Houston Processing Center to a 75-person strong rally in front of the Willacy County Processing Center in Raymondville.

The 2,000-bed ICE detention center, operated by MTC, first drew headlines when it was announced that it would be built in only 90 days and would consist of a series of windowless Kevlar pods. The project then drew fire from Willacy County Attorney Juan Guerra who warned county officials that they couldn’t spend excess project funds on other county projects, as they had planned.

MTC’s Processing Center is by no means the first private prison or prison scandal to engulf Raymondville. Already home to a 1,000-bed private state prison, a 500-bed private federal jail, and a 96-bed county jail, the county is known, even by county leaders, as Prisonville.

As the Texas Observer has reported, Willacy County had already experienced trouble with a previous private prison project. In 2005, two Willacy County Commissioners and one Webb County Commissioner plead guilty to crimes in a bribery case related to prison development in Willacy.  According to the Associated Press ("Webb official sentenced to prison," Nov. 24, 2006) "money was given in exchange for favorable votes on contracts to design, build or manage a 500-bed facility in Raymondville that opened in 2003."  That prison is now operated by MTC and the project involved prison developers Hale-Mills and Corplan.

And, in 2006, a jury rewarded $47.5 million in a lawsuit against the Wackenhut Corporation to the family of a prisoner who was beaten to death in 2001. Wackenhut (now known as the GEO Group) was operating the prison when the prisoner was beaten to death by other prisoners in what the lawsuit contended was a "...pattern and practice of allowing beatings and fights between inmates for money." Since the lawsuit, Corrections Corporation of America has taken over operation of that private prison.

Even though this latest private prison for ICE is made up of temporary structures, its impact on Raymondville's legacy of private prison scandals will be long term.

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