“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

Immigration enforcer promises to be "a strong advocate" in new role at private prison company

A top official for Immigration and Customs Enforcement is moving on to a new job with one of the largest private prison companies, reports the Daily Beast.

Daniel Ragsdale is currently second-in-command at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Before becoming deputy director, Ragsdale was temporarily the head of the agency until President Trump named his replacement in January. He will now move on to a new role with the GEO Group, one of the largest private prison companies in the U.S.. GEO Group operates facilities for both federal prisoners and undocumented immigrants who have been detained by ICE.  

In a letter to his ICE colleagues, Ragsdale said, "While you may be losing me as a colleague, please know that I will continue to be a strong advocate for you and your mission."

Ragsdale is not the first official at ICE who has made the move from the public to private sector. Various GEO Group executives, including David Venturella and Mary Loiselle, were both ICE officials before landing top posts at GEO.

Employing former immigration enforcement agents seems to be working for GEO Group, which recently bought two correctional facilities and landed a contract to construct and operate a new $100 million dollar detention center.

Could newly closed correctional facilities be turned into immigrant detention centers?

The Texas House and Senate both proposed to close four state correctional facilities to help lower the state budget, reports the Texas Observer.

The facilities set to be closed are Williamson County’s Bartlett State Jail, Wise County’s Bridgeport Pre-Parole Transfer Facility, Mitchell County’s Dick Ware Transfer Facility, and Terry County’s West Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility. According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, these four facilities cost the state $51.2 million dollars every two years. Together they hold 1,755 prisoners. The closing of these prisons is a rare positive development out of the Texas legislature (see anti-immigrant SB4, family detention centers licensing), with three of the four being operated by private prison companies CoreCivic and Management and Training Corporation (MTC).

If the recommended closures pass the legislature, the state would retain ownership of the Bartlett State Jail and the Dick Ware Transfer facility, as they were operated by MTC yet owned by the state of Texas. CoreCivic and the city of Brownfield, who own the Bridgeport Pre-Parole Transfer Facility and the West Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility respectively, would be free to sell their facilities or find new prisoners to house there.

This worries activists, who fear that the facilities could be turned into ready made immigrant detention centers.

Holly Kirby, criminal justice programs director at Grassroots Leadership, said "I think it’s important that we keep a close eye on how these facilities might be repurposed. It’s common practice for privately owned facilities to get used for other populations of prisoners, like immigrants, and it’s particularly concerning in the current political climate, with talk of expanding detention.”

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As private prison closes, Eden looks to diversify economy

After the closing of the Eden Detention Center, city of Eden officials are taking steps to secure their future, reports the San Angelo Standard-Times.

The Eden Detention Center, which is operated by the for-profit prison company CoreCivic, has been located in the city of Eden since 1985. City officials have been planning for the closure, as the contract with CoreCivic to operate the facility ended April 30.

To do this, city officials are looking for profitable opportunities that will make up for the jobs and revenue that came from the private detention center. The officials are working with representatives from different university small business development programs and have hired a government and public relations firm to speed up the process. There have been talks of focusing on the enhancement of the arts and draw in new businesses.

The Eden Detention Center is one of many private detention centers owned by CoreCivic in Texas. The facility was a focal point for a damaging report by the ACLU which highlighted the facility's history of medical neglect, overcrowding, and unsanitary conditions.

While the closing of the detention center will be tough for the city, Mario Castillo of Aegis Group Ltd., the public relations firm hired by the city of Eden, took positives from the closing.

"I think what Eden has learned is diversification is crucial,“ Castillo said. “Like other small cities, they need to be careful what their economic base is made of; they need to look at their economic mix.”

Hopefully other cities and counties will learn from Eden, and realize that basing your economy on private prisons and detention centers is never a good plan.

Closing the Bartlett State Jail has potential to save millions of dollars

The city of Bartlett is preparing for possible financial difficulties if the Bartlett State Jail closes in September, reports the Temple Daily Telegram. But it may also open opportunities.

The Bartlett State Jail is one of four prisons that may be closed by September following recommendations by the Texas Senate Finance Committee, the workgroup that works on the state's budget for the next two years. The state is hoping to cut $250 million from the budget, and by closing the Bartlett jail, the state of Texas would save around $24 million. If the budget does pass, the prisoners from Bartlett will be transferred to other facilities. The Bartlett State Jail has been operated by CoreCivic (formerly CCA) since 1995, and has a history of hazing and sexual abuse.

Some city of Bartlett officials have expressed concerns that the jail closing will negatively hurt their economy. Officials said that sales tax collection will be reduced and area residents who work at the jail could be reassigned or laid off. The city would also lose over $500,000 a year in water in wastewater removal revenue that comes from the operation of the jail.

However, closing the jail could actually end up saving the city money in the long run. Due to the high population of the jail, as well as the city of Bartlett, the city's wastewater treatment plant is not in compliance with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. To bring Bartlett into compliance and avoid high fines would require expensive repairs and sludge clean up for the existing wastewater facility. By closing the jail, the city would reduce the demands on the wastewater facility, possibly saving the city thousands, or even millions, of dollars in necessary repairs and upgrades.

City and state officials are preparing for the possible shutdown by creating an economic development plan and looking at other possibilities or alternatives to improving the local economy.

Bartlett officials may want to speak with city of Eden officials, who are looking at ways to diversify their economy following the closing of the Eden Detention Center. They are looking into enhancing the arts in their town and finding ways to draw small businesses to the area.  

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