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CorPlan brings private detention center scheme to Italy, Texas

Argyle, Texas-based private prison development firm CorPlan has brought its much-rejected private detention center proposal to Italy, Texas - a small community just south of Waxahachi and the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, according to the Italy Neotribune ("Italy City Council hears proposal for commercial development," May 18),

"James Parkey along with associates Kent Bratcher and Gary McKibben of James Parkey Associates presented their proposal of a detention center for illegal immigrants for all nationalities to be built in Italy. They would like to put it on fifty acres. He stated the building would look like a school. There would be no guard houses, no guard dogs, but would be a gorilla proof facility with a fence. The facility would only be used as a processing center and would be designed to current building codes.

Parkey explained it would be a five hundred bed facility and would provide approximately one hundred and fifty jobs. The hired employees would be put through training and at the end of their training they would be a licensed correction officer."

Parkey and his associates have traveled across the southwest pitching supposed "family immigrant detention centers."  Last month, a CorPlan proposal met blistering criticism in Globe, Arizona ("Revisiting Globe's prison proposal: Companies behind project have a questionable past," Arizona Silver Belt, June 9th)   including in an attempt to persuade the city of Weslaco to finance such a facility with the help of State Representative Eddie Lucio, III.  According to Forrest Wilder's coverage at the Texas Observer ("For the Lucios, Private Prison Consulting is a Family Affair," April 23), 

"In recent years, Corplan has been at the center of numerous controversies, including a bizarre prison-building scheme in Hardin, Montana that involved a private military force called American Police Force run by an ex-con. The prison cost the small town $27 million but never housed any prisoners.

In one of his latest gambits, Parkey has approached city officials in several towns across the U.S. – Benson, Arizona; Las Cruces, New Mexico; and Weslaco, Texas – with a proposal to build a new detention center for immigrant families.  Parkey’s reputation, however, has caught up with him in Las Cruces and Benson, where officials have nixed the deal."

One of the many problems with this supposed family detention center was that ICE is no longer soliciting family detention centers from contractors.  Even so, a prison developer could be paid up front if a community were to build such a facility on speculation of a contract, regardless of the success of the project.  Thus far, we have seen no media coverage outside the NeoTribune of Italy proposal, but we'll continue to monitor the situation and let you know the developments.

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More on Texas-based prison developer Corplan in Arizona

Phillip Franchine at the Sahuarita Sun ("Prison project involving developer was tinged," May 27) today continues that paper's excellent investigative coverage of Texas-based private prison developers pushing a proposed immigrant detention center on Tohono O'odham Nation land in Arizona.  Earlier this week, we covered the host of Texas private prison characters, many of whom tied to the more controversial Texas prison deals, working to bring a detention center to Tohono O'odham land.

The recent Sun article delves into Corplan's relationship to former Webb County (Texas) Commissioner David Cortez who was convicted of funneling bribes to Willacy County (Texas) Commissioners in relation to a detention center in Raymondville.  According to the article,

"The (Tohono O'odham) project is spearheaded by Corplan Corrections of Argyle, Texas, which has developed dozens of privately operated prisons across the country. Corplan President James Parkey confirmed that one of his contractors, David Cortez, a former Webb County (Texas) Commissioner, was convicted of federal bribery charges arising from the development of the Willacy County Regional Detention Facility in Raymondville, Texas. Parkey denied any wrongdoing on his part or that of his company.

Parkey said in an e-mail last week, “Mr. Cortez was one of thousands of subcontracts that have been hired by Corplan Corrections during the last 30 years of business operations.”

A Nov. 21, 2006, press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Brownsville, Texas, said Cortez admitted channeling money to two Willacy County commissioners who also were convicted from “a corporation involved in soliciting a consulting contract regarding the Center in Willacy County.”

Parkey said in the e-mail that “the corporation (named) is not Corplan! I have never been nor has any member of my corporation ever been interview by a Federal or State official in regard to your stated information surrounding Mr. Cortez and his sole admission of guilt.” "

We'll keep you posted as we find more.

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Texas private prison developers pushing detention center on Tohono O'odham Nation

A group of Texas private prison developers are behind a controversial proposal to build a detention center on Tohono O'odham Nation land near Sahuarita, Arizona.  The group includes well-known prison developers, including underwriter Municipal Capitol Markets Group, design firm Corplan, and prison "consultant" Richard Reyes from Innovative Government Strategies.

While it appears the plan may be faltering under pressure from local opponents, the private prison developers still hope they will be able to build a detention center on the tribal land. A recent article in the Sahuarita Sun ("Public pressure crushed detention center," May 22nd) indicates that the initial location proposed for the facility has been withdrawn, but that "the northwestern part of the District has been mentioned as a possible site" alternative.  According to an earlier article in the Arizona Daily Star ("Prison plan opposition grows," May 18), the proposed detention facility succeeded in uniting a diverse group of opponents,

"Community activists, immigrant-rights advocates, tribal critics and local elected officials don't want to see a federal detention center built near Pima Mine Road on the San Xavier District of the Tohono O'odham Nation.

Opponents, including residents of Rancho Sahuarita and the Rev. Robin Hoover of Humane Borders, asked the Pima County Board of Supervisors last week for the county's help in stopping the prison's construction. The county's power lies only in raising questions and asking the federal government to require more study of the impact before signing off on the project. The county has no direct jurisdiction over projects built on sovereign Indian territory." 

The private prison pushers are being called "the folks from Texas" by opponents of the prison, and they include people involved in Texas' most controversial prison deals. They include James Parkey of prison design firm Corplan and Chris Cuny of prison engineering firm Cuny Corp.  According to reports, Parkey sold the complicated and controversial bond deal that led to the Willacy County Detention Center. The Willacy facility was featured in an excellent expose by Forrest Wilder in the Texas Observer ("Jailbait: Prison companies profit as Raymondville's public debt grows," October 20, 2006).

Underwriting the proposed Arizona detention center is Municipal Capital Market Groups, led by Michael Harling.  Harling recently pitched an immigrant family detention center in Willacy County and advocated for a controversial jail privatization scheme in McLennan County, Texas. MCMG was a major player in the earlier Willacy deal that led to bribery convictions for two County Commissioners from Willacy and one from Webb County, according to the Associated Press ("Webb official sentenced to prison," Nov. 24, 2006). No company involved in the Willacy deal, including Corplan, MCMG, construction firm Hale Mills, or private prison operator MTC were ever indicted in the case.    

Also in the mix is Richard A. Reyes, a former Webb County Commissioner and a "consultant" with Innovative Government Strategies out of Boerne, TX.  Reyes reportedly received over $700,000 for his "consulting" role ("Doing Borrowed Time: The High Cost of Back-Door Prison Finance," Prison Legal News, November 11, 2008) in putting together the troubled prison financing deal in LaSalle County, Texas.  County officials from LaSalle are still wrangling in court with private prison company Emerald Corrections over the Reyes' LaSalle arrangement.  

Reyes was the subject of a San Antonio Current article called "The Buzz in Boerne" (the article is no longer on line, but we have a copy). It argued Reyes' La Salle deal was not as sweet as first sold,

"Kendall County Judge Eddie J. Vogt said before the county joins the federal prison industry, it would closely scrutinize La Salle County, where Sean Chadwell, Encinal city councilman, has opposed the project from the beginning. He criticizes the private prison firms, the financial underwriters, and Reyes, who represented La Salle County in the Encinal project, for picking a "provincial" location as an easy target to dupe the taxpaying public into funding a for-profit detention center. "Prison companies come to town and say to the county, 'You borrow the money through a public finance corporation, which is an arm of county government. You can do that without a vote and you're not obliging tax money.' The logic is pretty sensible, and it enables poor municipalities to borrow money. The problem is in building something as big as a prison, where counties encounter all sorts of other costs."

Chadwell charges that La Salle County spent $50,000 in legal fees during negotiations and construction of the La Salle County Regional Detention Center. He says the county is hemorrhaging money to service debt and finance charges. "Any population that is less than a constant 420 prisoners is losing money," Chadwell said "It also puts a damper on future development, residential or commercial. The early promise is to spur economic development in town."

Encinal's water supply company has committed so much water to the federal detention facility that it only has 40 hookups for other residential or commercial developments in town. Chadwell says that rural economies all over Texas are making themselves dependent on incarceration. "It's happening all over the country, but Texas is especially bad. Once little places are solely dependent on prisons, you can't change that very easily."

This is certainly a troubled cast of characters Texas' private prison development industry has exported to Arizona.  We'll keep you posted on developments. Best of luck to our Arizona friends working to expose the industry!  

Raymondville Private Prisons and Prison Scandals Have Long History

Yesterday, Kathleen reported that detention center protests have spread from big protests outside T. Don Hutto and civil disobedience at CCA’s Houston Processing Center to a 75-person strong rally in front of the Willacy County Processing Center in Raymondville.

The 2,000-bed ICE detention center, operated by MTC, first drew headlines when it was announced that it would be built in only 90 days and would consist of a series of windowless Kevlar pods. The project then drew fire from Willacy County Attorney Juan Guerra who warned county officials that they couldn’t spend excess project funds on other county projects, as they had planned.

MTC’s Processing Center is by no means the first private prison or prison scandal to engulf Raymondville. Already home to a 1,000-bed private state prison, a 500-bed private federal jail, and a 96-bed county jail, the county is known, even by county leaders, as Prisonville.

As the Texas Observer has reported, Willacy County had already experienced trouble with a previous private prison project. In 2005, two Willacy County Commissioners and one Webb County Commissioner plead guilty to crimes in a bribery case related to prison development in Willacy.  According to the Associated Press ("Webb official sentenced to prison," Nov. 24, 2006) "money was given in exchange for favorable votes on contracts to design, build or manage a 500-bed facility in Raymondville that opened in 2003."  That prison is now operated by MTC and the project involved prison developers Hale-Mills and Corplan.

And, in 2006, a jury rewarded $47.5 million in a lawsuit against the Wackenhut Corporation to the family of a prisoner who was beaten to death in 2001. Wackenhut (now known as the GEO Group) was operating the prison when the prisoner was beaten to death by other prisoners in what the lawsuit contended was a "...pattern and practice of allowing beatings and fights between inmates for money." Since the lawsuit, Corrections Corporation of America has taken over operation of that private prison.

Even though this latest private prison for ICE is made up of temporary structures, its impact on Raymondville's legacy of private prison scandals will be long term.

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