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Grasping at straws, Littlefield prison seeks California prisoner contract?

We've covered the plight of the abandoned Bill Clayton Detention Center in Littlefield for many years.  The facility — originally operated by private prison corporation GEO Group — jumped into the media in 2008 after an Idaho prisoner housed at the West Texas facility committed suicide after reportedly spending more than a year in solitary confinement and a subsequent investigation led Idaho to pull its prisoners from the facility.  

GEO Group then abandoned the facility, leaving the city of Littlefield holding the hefty debt that it had floated the constructed the facility in the first place.  The situation got so bad that the city attempted to auction off the facility — omplete with a fast-talking auctioneer — but the sale eventually fell through.

The city has subsequently tried several interim private operators and attempted to win contracts from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, a county in New Mexico, and as recently as last week to detain refugee children apprehended on the border. 

Now comes news that Littlefield may be shopping the facility to a private company from California to incarcerate people convicted of sex crimes in the facility.  According to KCDB ("Littlefield considers bid to house sex offenders in vacant prison," August 4th):

"City Manager Mike Arismendez said that the city was contacted by a California company working to secure a bid to house sex offenders in Texas and the company wants to use the Littlefield prison.

Last month, Arismendez began speaking with authorities about possibly housing illegal immigrants at the vacant prison and Arismendez said that the new bid doesn't mean that talks to house immigrants are over.

But, he said only one group will be housed at the prison. 'I'm kind of pushing all these balls up the hill and whichever ball gets to the top is the one we're probably looking at,' Arismendez said."

It's unclear from the article whether the City is attempting to win a contract from the state of Texas or the state of California to incarcerate people convicted of sex offenses, but it would seem unlikely that Texas is seeking additional prison capacity given its move to close two private prisons last legislative session.  California, however, ships nearly 9,000 prisoners to out-of-state private prisons — all of which are operated by Corrections Corporation of America.  The practice has been widely denounced as bad for prisoner rehabilitation and reentry practices, including by Grassroots Leadership, my organization, in a report last year.   

We'll keep you updated on developments from Littlefield.

Jones County prison sits empty at a cost of $35 Million

A prison in Jones County built by Community Education Centers for $35 million in local revenue bonds sits empty according to a new story at KTXS ("New Detention Center in Jones County Awaits Inmates," July 15).

County officials have said that they hope to fill the prison with state prisoners even though the state state has adopted various policy reforms (PDF) that have lessened the demand for state prison capacity.  The story is a little murky here -- we will do some digging to see if we can follow the money. From this report ("Jones County officials await word from the state on detention facility funding," Abilene Reporter-News, May 23), it appears that even though policies were adopted to lessen the need for prison space, state authorities were assuming the need for expansion:

"The state approved a contract for the prison to be built in Jones County in 2008. Revenue bonds were approved by the county to pay for construction, which began in May 2009."

In recent years, the Texas prison population has declined and the state plans to close a public prison next month. Jones County officials are looking for contracts to fill their $35 million prison.  It seems that the Governor's office and county officials have phoned folks in California in the hopes of helping that state alleviate prison overcrowding due to a recent Supreme Court order.  But new polling suggests that California voters support easing penalties as a way to address the state's incarceration problem instead of expanding capacity. 

We'll look into this a bit more and update y'all when we get more of the story. 

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