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Texas private prison developers pushing detention center on Tohono O'odham Nation

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A group of Texas private prison developers are behind a controversial proposal to build a detention center on Tohono O'odham Nation land near Sahuarita, Arizona.  The group includes well-known prison developers, including underwriter Municipal Capitol Markets Group, design firm Corplan, and prison "consultant" Richard Reyes from Innovative Government Strategies.

While it appears the plan may be faltering under pressure from local opponents, the private prison developers still hope they will be able to build a detention center on the tribal land. A recent article in the Sahuarita Sun ("Public pressure crushed detention center," May 22nd) indicates that the initial location proposed for the facility has been withdrawn, but that "the northwestern part of the District has been mentioned as a possible site" alternative.  According to an earlier article in the Arizona Daily Star ("Prison plan opposition grows," May 18), the proposed detention facility succeeded in uniting a diverse group of opponents,

"Community activists, immigrant-rights advocates, tribal critics and local elected officials don't want to see a federal detention center built near Pima Mine Road on the San Xavier District of the Tohono O'odham Nation.

Opponents, including residents of Rancho Sahuarita and the Rev. Robin Hoover of Humane Borders, asked the Pima County Board of Supervisors last week for the county's help in stopping the prison's construction. The county's power lies only in raising questions and asking the federal government to require more study of the impact before signing off on the project. The county has no direct jurisdiction over projects built on sovereign Indian territory." 

The private prison pushers are being called "the folks from Texas" by opponents of the prison, and they include people involved in Texas' most controversial prison deals. They include James Parkey of prison design firm Corplan and Chris Cuny of prison engineering firm Cuny Corp.  According to reports, Parkey sold the complicated and controversial bond deal that led to the Willacy County Detention Center. The Willacy facility was featured in an excellent expose by Forrest Wilder in the Texas Observer ("Jailbait: Prison companies profit as Raymondville's public debt grows," October 20, 2006).

Underwriting the proposed Arizona detention center is Municipal Capital Market Groups, led by Michael Harling.  Harling recently pitched an immigrant family detention center in Willacy County and advocated for a controversial jail privatization scheme in McLennan County, Texas. MCMG was a major player in the earlier Willacy deal that led to bribery convictions for two County Commissioners from Willacy and one from Webb County, according to the Associated Press ("Webb official sentenced to prison," Nov. 24, 2006). No company involved in the Willacy deal, including Corplan, MCMG, construction firm Hale Mills, or private prison operator MTC were ever indicted in the case.    

Also in the mix is Richard A. Reyes, a former Webb County Commissioner and a "consultant" with Innovative Government Strategies out of Boerne, TX.  Reyes reportedly received over $700,000 for his "consulting" role ("Doing Borrowed Time: The High Cost of Back-Door Prison Finance," Prison Legal News, November 11, 2008) in putting together the troubled prison financing deal in LaSalle County, Texas.  County officials from LaSalle are still wrangling in court with private prison company Emerald Corrections over the Reyes' LaSalle arrangement.  

Reyes was the subject of a San Antonio Current article called "The Buzz in Boerne" (the article is no longer on line, but we have a copy). It argued Reyes' La Salle deal was not as sweet as first sold,

"Kendall County Judge Eddie J. Vogt said before the county joins the federal prison industry, it would closely scrutinize La Salle County, where Sean Chadwell, Encinal city councilman, has opposed the project from the beginning. He criticizes the private prison firms, the financial underwriters, and Reyes, who represented La Salle County in the Encinal project, for picking a "provincial" location as an easy target to dupe the taxpaying public into funding a for-profit detention center. "Prison companies come to town and say to the county, 'You borrow the money through a public finance corporation, which is an arm of county government. You can do that without a vote and you're not obliging tax money.' The logic is pretty sensible, and it enables poor municipalities to borrow money. The problem is in building something as big as a prison, where counties encounter all sorts of other costs."

Chadwell charges that La Salle County spent $50,000 in legal fees during negotiations and construction of the La Salle County Regional Detention Center. He says the county is hemorrhaging money to service debt and finance charges. "Any population that is less than a constant 420 prisoners is losing money," Chadwell said "It also puts a damper on future development, residential or commercial. The early promise is to spur economic development in town."

Encinal's water supply company has committed so much water to the federal detention facility that it only has 40 hookups for other residential or commercial developments in town. Chadwell says that rural economies all over Texas are making themselves dependent on incarceration. "It's happening all over the country, but Texas is especially bad. Once little places are solely dependent on prisons, you can't change that very easily."

This is certainly a troubled cast of characters Texas' private prison development industry has exported to Arizona.  We'll keep you posted on developments. Best of luck to our Arizona friends working to expose the industry!  


Ummm sounds like the prison in Hardin, montana. Same players. THAT prison has been sitting empty for 2 years.

I was the outside organizer who helped residents of Sahuarita, Benson and Quartzite, Arizona as well as assisting with others in Weslaco and Italy, Texas, and also Lindsay, Oklahoma and Las Cruces, New Mexico, to successfully opposed for profit prisons and immigrant detention centers in their communities.

It was also I who exposed the California con man to whom the industrial development authority intended to turn over the Hardin prison, breaking the story regarding the gullibility of town officials and the regional press on September 10, 2009.

That facility has been completed and empty for 38 months, and the Authority has been in bond default for 28 months over the jail.

I've helped other communities around the nation resist the scams run by many other operators as well, including those of the Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut) which has recently absorbed Cornell Companies, and those of various smaller corporations.