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.
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.
At the time of the hearing, state officials including Governor Greg Abbott stated that the purpose of the licensing was to ensure the well-being of the children held at the Texas family detention centers. However, the state initiated its attempt to license the facilities after Federal District Court Judge Dolly Gee issued a decision that these family detention camps violate multiple of the standards set by the Flores Settlement for the detention of children by federal immigration officials. One of these standards is that children must be held in licensed childcare facilities.
As the agency and advocates prepare for another licensing hearing on February 4, state officials now admit that the decision to pursue licensing of the facilities stems from this federal court decision. “The (judge’s) decision left Texas and the federal government with an option to regulate the facility, or have these illegal immigrants released into Texas communities without regard for the federal government’s immigration disposition process,” Department of Family and Protective Services spokesman Patrick Crimmins told the American-Statesman. “The federal government therefore requested licensure to prevent this and Texas agreed.”
Grassroots Leadership says that state officials’ new position confirms that the well-being of immigrant children was not the motive for licensing. The organization’s Executive Director Bob Libal told the American-Statesman, “This is not about the welfare of children...This is a desperate attempt for the state to bail out the federal government’s immigrant detention regime.”
In September 2015, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) released their annual analysis of our nation's prison population, Prisoners in 2014. In 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 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.
Grits notes that two of the three facilities TDCJ closed in recent years - the Dawson State Jail and the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility - were private (and both CCA facilities as well). Grits attributes the closure of Dawson and the Central Unit in Sugarland at least in part to development interests. While Dawson's location in prime real estate territory in downtown Dallas certainly bolstered the case for closing it, so did the preventable deaths of several women at the facility, an advocacy campaign by Grassroots Leadership, my organization, and others, and some stellar reporting by Ginger Allen at CBS 11.
Grits ends with this quote, which I couldn't agree with more:
"In an era when the United States has 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent of its prisoners, with Texas incarcerating more people by far than any other state, Grits doesn't care much which prisons the state closes, or why. I just want them to close more. We can debate later how much deincarceration is too much. Right now, we're a long way from that particular fork in the road."