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, 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.
Local government also saw job losses after the prison was shut down. According to media reports, "The prison’s closure plunged Willacy County into a financial crisis, slashing a third of the county’s $8.1 million general fund budget. As county commissioners tried to offset a monthly $220,000 shortfall, budget cuts eliminated about 25 jobs, forcing 16 layoffs."
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.
As the Republican primary approaches in March, two candidates are vying for the Montgomery County Sheriff’s seat, as there will not be a Democratic opponent. Rand Henderson is a long-time employee of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department, serving under out-going Sheriff Tommy Gage, who has endorsed Henderson. His opponent, Jim Napolitano, has a background in the Secret Service and private security and is backed by Montgomery County tea party groups.
Henderson’s platform consists of continuing the status quo and the GEO Group has donated $5,000 to Henderson’s campaign. Interestingly, tea party groups in Montgomery County have often been vocal dissenters of private prison contracts in Montgomery County and support Napolitano. We will continue to monitor this race and its outcome.
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.”