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ICE Bails out Private Prison in McLennan County

The Jack Harwell Detention Center, built in 2010 on $49 million in revenue bonds, is once again housing immigrants detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  McLennan County Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Cawthon told the Waco Tribune that the facility would begin leasing two hundred beds to ICE for people awaiting immigration hearings.

LaSalle Corrections took control of the facility just last month when the county decided to change operators from Community Education Centers, which had run the detention center since its construction.  The county had always had trouble filling the beds, but after an audit by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards and an ICE investigation uncovered poor conditions, McLennan County lost its contract with ICE in December 2011.

County commissioners chose LaSalle because of the company's "stability and its track record of persuading federal agencies to contract for its services."  In fact, a LaSalle executive was quoted in the Waco Tribune as saying that the company has:

“...been blessed to have a relatively good history of increasing the jail population for our clients,” said Billy McConnell, an executive with LaSalle. “We are confident we can provide a service that the county will find satisfactory.”

Like many contracts with for-profit prison companies, McLennan's contains a bed guarantee -- a stipulation that McLennan will continue to pay LaSalle if the population drops below a set level.  The only commissioner who voted against the proposal said that he could "not in good conscience" put his support behind a contract that put McLennan County on the hook for unfilled beds.  If prison population declines or if the facility once again fails to live up to ICE's standards (which are notoriously low), the county could find itself in even more fiscal trouble.

While McLennan County was lucky to be rid of CEC, it might have jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire with this new deal with LaSalle.  

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