“What happens if you privatize prisons is that you have a large industry with a vested interest in building ever-more prisons.” -- Molly Ivins, 2003

Emerald's bid for Mineral Wells detention center dead for a second time

Private prison corporation Emerald's second attempt to build a speculative immigrant detention center in Mineral Wells is officially dead, according to a story from the Mineral Wells Index ("ICE project deal dead," October 8):

A two and-a-half year effort to bring an illegal immigrant detention center to Mineral Wells ended Tuesday night with several long seconds of silence from city council members.

A resolution to continue negotiations with Emerald Correctional Management to build a detention facility funded by non-recourse revenue bonds issued by the Mineral Wells Local Government Corporation failed when council members failed to second a motion in support.

“That’s a pretty clear message that the city council has no interest in doing this project,” Steve Afeman, chief operating officer of Emerald, said Wednesday morning. “We’re not about to go back.”

The story itself has some interesting tidbits.  After private financing for the facility fell through, the company tried to convince the city to float revenue bonds to pay for the facility's construction.  The City Councilmembers were having none of it. 

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Mineral Wells rejects Emerald detention center financing deal

From the Mineral Wells Index ("Council declines Emerald finance proposal," October 7),

Mineral Wells City Council on Tuesday declined to second a motion to finance a proposed Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detention facility.

Emerald Correctional Management Company said it was unable to date to secure private financing for the 500- to 1,000-bed facility that would house detained or arrested illegal immigrants. The company asked the city to issue public revenue bonds to build the estimated $50 million project.

After a presentation during Tuesday's council meeting, council members asked several questions, and Councilman John Ritchie made a motion to approve the financing request. However, no member of council seconded the motion, and the motion died with no further action or discussion.

What that means for the project's future is not certain. The Index is working on the story and will post it later today.

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DHS to announce new reorganization plans; Will Mineral Wells move forward with Emerald's supposed ICE detention center?

Today, Department of Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano and Immigration chief John Morton will announce the second phase of a reorganization of the ICE detention system.  While the details are still hazy, it looks like it may not be good news for the private prison industry.  According to the New York Times ("Ideas for Immigrant Detention Include Converting Hotels and Building Models, October 6) article on the announcement,

The Obama administration is looking to convert hotels and nursing homes into immigration detention centers and to build two model detention centers from scratch as it tries to transform the way the government holds people it is seeking to deport.

These and other initiatives, described in an interview on Monday by Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, are part of the administration’s effort to revamp the much-criticized detention system, even as it expands the enforcement programs that send most people accused of immigration violations to jails and private prisons. The cost, she said, would be covered by greater efficiencies in the detention and removal system, which costs $2.4 billion annually to operate and holds about 380,000 people a year.

It always makes me wary to hear about plans to fix detention system plans by building new detention facilities.  However, the move away from private prisons and county jail contracts could be a good thing.  It's too early to tell if the moves will include closing some of the large and controversial private prisons holding immigrant detainees such as MTC's Raymondville "Tent City." 

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Sheriff Agrees to Not Take Additional Money from Private Prison Company

Tommy Witherspoon at the Waco Tribune is documenting unsavory practices between county sheriffs and private prison profiteers.  According to recent reports, McLennan County Sheriff Larry Lynch will not take additional money from Community Education Centers (CEC) ("Sheriff will not receive additional stipend when new jail opens" Waco Tribune, September 26, 2009). 

A known practice in Texas is the payment of funds to county Sheriffs by private prison companies.   According to state law, Sheriffs must authorize a private detention company's presence in the county under its jurisdiction. 

Lynch had been on the private prison payroll for years; CEC paid him and his predecessors a monthly stipend of $1,000 in addition to their annual salaries.  The kick-back paid to county sheriffs has been a source of tension in McClennan County for years. McClennan County sheriffs collect private prison profits through the contract agreement between the county and private prison companies.  CEC acquired CivicGenics. 

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