“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

Shepherd takes the plunge, OKs Emerald’s immigrant detention bid despite company’s past

Less than a week after Cleveland City rejected a proposal from Emerald Correctional Management, neighboring Shepherd voted 4-1 in favor of letting Emerald pursue a bid on a new 1000-bed immigrant detention center in the small city, according to the Houston Chronicle (One community welcomes bid for detention center, another rejects it, Oct. 29, 2015).

Emerald CEO Steve Afeman told the Houston Chronicle that his company was bidding on a 10-year federal contract, with a guaranteed 750-bed occupancy rate, avoiding problems that have plagued other private prison or detention facility contracts in years past as inmate populations have dwindled.

Mayor Niki Coats, who cast the vote that doomed the proposal in Cleveland City, told the Chronicle, "After doing all the research about the industry and the company and the individuals with the company, I was strongly against it,” Coats said. "They approached us with all these numbers, but it doesn't add up.”

Debra Hagler, Shepherd City Secretary told the Chronicle that if Emerald did walk away from the facility or their obligation, as the company did in Encinal, the small city "would try to lease it, sell it, to some other company that can use it."

Hagler and other Shepherd officials would have done well to learn what happened to another Texas town that had to face this contingency. Littlefield, Texas struggled for years after private prison company the GEO Group pulled out of the troubled Bill Clayton facility.

Cleveland City narrowly rejects for-profit immigration detention proposal

Cleveland City Council in October rejected a bid from Emerald Correctional Management LLC of Shreveport, Louisiana, to build a new for-profit immigrant detention center in this community 50 miles northeast of Houston, according to a report from YourHousonNews.com (Cleveland City Council rejects immigration detention center proposal, Oct. 21, 2015)

Those who came to speak against the proposal talked about what the detention center would do to the community’s image and the company’s dubious track record (which includes leaving Encinal, Texas and $20 million in debt). Even the usual private prison promise of “bringing jobs” drew sharp rebuke. Cleveland attorney Mollie Lambert said that only meant 300 home foreclosures would follow in the future.

Emerald’s General Council Hull Youngblood spoke before the council and promised that the detention center will have a 75 percent occupancy guarantee and no families housed inside the building, possibly referring to the family detention centers in South Texas that a federal judge earlier this year ordered to release children detained there.

“It comes with a guarantee of 10 years of occupancy,” Youngblood, the Emerald representative, promised council members.

UPDATE: Prison company packs up and leaves LaSalle County, $20 million in debt

In a story earlier this year that reviewed the many examples of private prison companies leaving Texas towns high and dry, Bloomberg Business highlighted the story of the LaSalle Detention Center in Encinal, Texas.

The immigrant detention center was opened in 2004 with almost $22 million in revenue bonds, over the concerns of many local residents who said Emerald Correctional Management LLC of Shreveport, Louisiana, was painting too rosy a picture.

Bloomberg reports that County Judge Joel Rodriguez Jr. said Emerald suddenly pulled out all inmates, leaving the county with empty beds, a leaking roof and almost $20 million in debt issued by the county's public facilities corporation.

“My fear’s always been that this would happen. When this facility was sold to the county, they sold it as a money-making facility that was going to be a great economic boon,” Rodriguez told Bloomberg.

Since then, the county has assumed responsibility for the facility while Emerald still showcases the facility on their webpage. As of the story's publication in August, Bloomberg reports that the 566-bed facility sits almost empty. Encinal has a population of 579 residents.

Emerald’s track record in LaSalle County didn’t scare officials in Shepherd, Texas. The Houston Chronicle reported that the city council voted 4-1 in favor of Emerald’s plans to build the detention center, clearing the way for the company to pursue its bid with ICE.

TX highlights from Corrections Corporation of America's 3rd quarter earnings announcement

On November 5, 2015, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) executives announced their 3rd quarter earnings results, including updates on the company's business in Texas. Check out the latest Texas updates from CCA below. You can find the full transcript here.


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