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February 2016

South Texas officials working to reopen scandal-ridden Willacy County prison

Tent City
Tent City
Willacy officials are working to reopen the troubled Willacy County Correctional Center by winning a new federal, state, or local contract, according to a report by KRGV.

The prison, known as Tent City because of its construction out of Kevlar tents, was destroyed last year after an uprising by immigrant prisoners in protest of conditions at the privately operated facility in February. The prison, run by Management & Training Corporation (MTC), was closed due to significant structural damage causing the relocation of 2,500 federal prisoners and nearly 400 employee layoffs. The economic ripple effect in the area didn't end there, with job losses in the private and government sectors following the prison closure. 

The facility had been operating under "Criminal Alien Requirement" to incarcerate immigrants for the Bureau of Prisons.  

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City devastated after Walmart and private prison closures

The financial fallout from a prison uprising that led to it's closure continues in one Texas town. 

Residents of Raymondville, TX are stunned after the closure of Walmart just 10 months after the Willacy County Correctional Center shut down, according to a report in the Valley Morning Star that links the Walmart job losses to the prison closure. After Walmart closed its doors at the end of January, 110 Walmart employees were left without jobs. This adds to the 400 who lost their jobs at the prison after the Management & Training Corporation pulled out of the facility last year.

Willacy County Correctional Center
Willacy County Correctional Center

Willacy County Correctional Center, a privately operated prison for immigrants, was destroyed after fire and damage left the facility uninhabitable. What began as a peaceful protest against poor conditions, turned into an uprising sparked by violent retaliation from prison guards. 

GEO hoping to keep strong ties in Montgomery County

The Houston Chronicle recently reported on some interesting developments in the Sheriff’s race in Montgomery County.

 

The county is a longtime supporter of big private prison profiteers like the GEO Group, which runs three facilities in the county — the Joe Corley Detention Center, a federal immigration detention facility and the state’s only privately run mental health hospital. In 2013, County Commissioner Mike Meador stated that the company intended to make their community a GEO hub. Considering such an intimate history, it is no surprise that the GEO Group is paying to keep things the way they are in Montgomery County.  

 

Limestone County hopes to re-open private prison

Limestone County’s 1,000-bed private prison has been closed since 2013, but local officials are hoping to change that. Limestone County Judge Daniel Burkeen is working with Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to fill the prison once again with immigrants. 

According to KWTX, the facility closed in 2013 because federal immigration policy shifted to more deportations rather than detention. Community Education Centers ran the prison until March that same year, exiting the contract for unknown reasons. Management and Training Corporation took over, but only operated it for a few months before firing all employees and leaving it empty. The prison will continue to be run by Management and Training Corporation if the feds agree to renew the contract. 

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Debate continues on controversial effort to license family detention centers as child-care facilities

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services is expected to decide in the next few weeks whether to license two federal family detention camps in the south Texas towns of Karnes and Dilley. In November 2015, Grassroots Leadership won an injunction that prohibited the state from passing an emergency rule to license the centers and mandated that the public be given an opportunity to comment on the licensing. At the public hearing held on December 9, more than 40 people testified against licensing including legal service providers, immigrant rights groups, faith leaders, and a former psychologist at the Karnes family detention camp. Over 1000 people also submitted written comments to TDFPS in opposition to the licensing.

The State of Private Prisons: Where does Texas stand?

In September 2015, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) released their annual analysis of our nation's prison population, Prisoners in 2014In addition to providing data on total state and federal U.S. prison populations, the report also shows the number of prisoners held in private prisons and local jails by jurisdiction.

So, how does Texas compare to other states when it comes to private prisons?

Texas ranked #1 in the nation for the highest total number of prisoners in private, for-profit prisons by far at 14,368 — roughly 2,000 more than the runner up, Florida.

The report also found that Texas locks up nearly 9% of its total prison population in private prisons. 

Grits: Texas should consider closing more (private) prisons in 2017

Grits for Breakfast had an intriguing post over the weekend on the possibility that the Texas legislature may move to close more prisons or state jails, including private facilities, when it meets again next spring.  Here's an excerpt:

"Texas famously closed three prison units in recent years. Could we close more?

After the Legislature raised property-theft thresholds to $2,500 last session, Grits expects downward prison-population trend lines to descend even further. And with legislators seriously discussing possible reductions in sentences for low-level drug possession, the possibility arises that Texas could close even more prison units in 2017, particularly so-called "state jails" (which in essence house people convicted of fourth-degree felonies, known in Texas penal-code parlance as "state jail felonies")."

Grits asked TDCJ for a list of private facilities with contracts expiring in 2017 that could be natural targets for closures.  All four facilities are operated by Corrections Corporation of America.