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ICE closing Haskell County Detention Center

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is moving detainees from the Rolling Plains Jail and Detention, causing the facility to close, reports KTAB/KRBC in Abilene.

The detention center, located in Haskell County, is a private prison for immigrants operated by corrections sector of Emerald Companies. ICE said they were “not happy with the current management company,” and so they will be moving detainees over the next to weeks to a new facility. The facility to which they are moving inmates is located in Alvarado Texas, where Emerald operates another detention facility, the Praireland Detention Center.  

County Judge David Davis assured residents in a press release that ICE had not pulled the contract with the Rolling Plains Jail and Detention center. He told residents that ICE still needed beds and if the county could find a new operator, ICE would continue to contract with the facility. While they look for a new operator, county officials are working with other counties to house prisoners from the Haskell County Jail, which is located inside the detention facility.

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Questions raised over trans pod at new Alvarado immigrant detention center

A single new immigrant detention center south of Dallas has become the focal point of many issues facing immigrant detention centers, reported the Dallas Morning News.

The new Praireland Detention Center, run by for-profit Emerald Correctional Management LLC, will hold up to 707 immigrants, which includes a special wing for three dozen transgender migrants.  Many activists are worried for the transgender migrant population, and hope that the new facility will have security provisions to keep transgender migrants safe from abuse and sexual assault. Nell Gaither, founder of Dallas-based Trans-Pride Initiative, said that a better solution would be alternative-to-detention programs, such as telephone monitoring or the use of ankle monitors. Although Gaither said that "our preference is that they not hold any trans or queer persons."

In the midst of a presidential election and the public unsure which direction immigrant detention will go, the amount of beds at the facility could change. However, that will not impact the payment that Emerald receives. The contract Emerald has guarantees $89.25 per day for a minimum of 525 beds, regardless of if they are filled or not. “It is a guaranteed minimum revenue stream,” said Emerald CEO Steve Afeman. “Otherwise, how would you get a $60 million facility custom-built.”

Though the Department of Homeland Security is currently reviewing its use of private prisons corporations, Emerald CEO Afeman said he's doubtful contracts for immigrant detention centers are under threat.

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Shepherd, TX disregards Sen. Whitmire's warning, moves forward with private prison

City officials in Shepherd, TX have "just disregarded" Senator John Whitmire's warning against contracting with private corrections company, Emerald Correctional Management LLC, to build a new lockup for immigrants awaiting deportation. 

On November 3rd, the Houston Chronicle reported that Sen. Whitmire sent a two-page letter to the Shepherd Mayor Pro Tem Sherry Roberts to tell her history has shown that partnering with private prison companies to build local lockups is a bad idea.

In a November 24th update, we learned that Shepherd city officials opted not to heed Whitmire’s warning. According to the article:

"Debra Hagler, the city secretary, said officials there 'just disregarded' Whitmire's letter. 'The resolution had already been signed and sent,' she said."

If, for any reason, the contract between Emerald and the federal government falls through, Whitmire told the prison company in a letter that Texas will have "no part" in filling empty beds. 



 

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Sen. John Whitmire warns small TX town against building new private lockup

Senator John Whitmire, D-Houston, sent a warning to city officials in Shepherd, TX after they voted in favor of contracting with private corrections company, Emerald Correctional Management LLC, to build a new lockup for immigrants awaiting deportation.  

Senator John Whitmire
Senator John Whitmire

Whitmire, Chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, sent a two-page letter to the Shepherd Mayor Pro Tem Sherry Roberts to tell her history has shown that partnering with private prison companies to build local lockups is a bad idea. In the letter, Whitmire cited Littlefield and Jones County, both small communities in Texas where partnerships with private companies have gone belly up and left local taxpayers with the burden of paying off the bonds. 

According to reports from the Houston Chronicle, Whitmire's letter stated:

"I hope you are aware that many cities and counties in Texas have gone down the failed path of partnering with private correctional entities to build both prisons and immigration detention facilities."

"Many of these thousands of beds now sit empty, leaving the public partner (city or county) responsible for paying off the debt issued to build the facility."

"Texas has closed three, privately run state jails or prison facilities, while our state inmate population continues to decline," Whitmire said.

"If the expected immigration population dwindles or disappears altogether, the state will have no part in filling the empty beds with state inmates. Again, thousands of beds built through speculation projects now sit empty, with public entities on the hook.

"I understand and appreciate the desire to provide economic development within your community, but gone are the times of using prisons and correctional facilities for that purpose," the senator stated. 

"I am hopeful that you will take under consideration the failed speculative projects elsewhere in Texas and the potentially significant financial liabilities your community would assume if a similar scenario were to play out in Shepherd."

Well said, Senator! Officials in Shepherd did not immediately respond to the Houston Chronicle on this issue. 

 

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Cleveland, TX mayor and residents successfully oppose new detention facility

On August 18, Cleveland, TX Mayor Niki Coats announced at a city council meeting that a private prison operator had withdrawn plans to build a new immigrant detention facility. 

Cleveland Mayor Niki Coats
Cleveland Mayor Niki Coats

The news drew cheers from more than two dozen residents who showed up to protest. 

One week earlier, private prison contractor, Emerald Companies, had asked the city for a letter of intent. Coats refused to sign, saying, "It's not the kind of growth in the community we need."

Coats later explained that Emerald withdrew the plan claiming they had another location in mind. 

When the Cleveland Advocate asked other Texas county judges about the impact on counties of building immigrant detention facilities, Polk County Judge Sidney Murphy had this to say:

"According to Murphy, in Polk County, the IAH Detention Facility operated by MTC of Utah and built a little more than 10 years ago is required to pay the county a per diem fee per inmate. However, the population of the 1,000-bed facility is so low, with only 300 beds being used, it is no longer generating any income for the county.

“'Why build a 1,000-bed facility when there is one less than 30 miles down the road that has only 300 beds being used?' Murphy asked."

Burnet County Judge James Oakley said after his county entered a 20-year revenue bond deal with a private prison company, the deal eventually went belly up, leaving the county with lost revenue and a facility that was much bigger than necessary. 

It seems the Cleveland mayor and residents may have helped save Liberty County from similar fates.

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2009 Top Private Prison Stories, #3 Private prison proposals defeated in Texas communities

Another year has passed here at Texas Prison Bid'ness, and what an exciting year it has been. As we have done in the past, the bloggers here at TPB would like to recap our favorite or perhaps the most memorable stories/topics over the past year.  Over the next few days, we'll be posting 2009's top five stories related to private prisons.

While the private prison industry continues to grow, several Texas communities said no to private prison sitings in Texas this year. This is the third biggest TPB story of 2009. 

 #3 Private prison proposals defeated in Texas communities

1. Emerald pushes Mineral Wells detention center three times in 2009... 

In Mineral Wells, private prison corporation Emerald Corrections first approached the city about building a speculative immigrant detention center in early 2009.  The company met tough opposition by local businesses and community members, who argued that the economic expense was too great for any benefits the community might receive.  The proposal was withdrawn, but not for long.  Emerald's second proposal for a private detention center was rejected when a motion to continue negotiations with the company died for lack of a second after city leaders balked at being asked to finance the prison through revenue bonds.  The company was not to be deterred however, and is moving into 2010 with yet a third private detention center proposal under negotiations. Emerald also had two similar speculative prison proposals defeated in Caldwell County last year.

2) CLEAT and community opposition defeat Southwestern jail in Grayson County...

In September, we reported that Grayson County's jail bond election had been canceled, and efforts to build a new Southwestern Correctional jail may have been squelched.  The move was a major victory for the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas (CLEAT) and other opponents of jail privatization.  CLEAT had indicated that it would file a lawsuit challenging the legality of the Grayson County Commissioners Court meeting that occurred on August 31.  In that meeting, Grayson County had approved a November public jail bond election at that meeting, but Commisioners were hedging their bets on the bond proposal. They also approved several items that would have moved privatization of the jail forward, including a new public facilities corporation (PFC) that would have sidestepped voters by financing a private facility with revenue bonds, and the form of a contract with Southwestern Correctional to build and operate the Grayson County Jail.  While Grayson is still debating its jail's future, privatization does not seem the most likely option today. 

3) Feds Reject Proposed MTC Prison in Nacogdoches

Opponents of a controversial MTC-proposed federal prison in Nacogdoches celebrated in May after the Federal Bureau of Prisons pulled the plug on the proposed facility.  While public offials were generally in favor of the proposed facility for immigrants to be deported following their sentences, community opposition to the facility was fierce and included an effort to bring the issue to a referendum vote by amending the city's charter and gathered over 2,700 signatures on their website, and impressive feat in a town of less than 30,000 total population. .

Stay tuned for the second biggest TPB story of 2009...

Emerald Not Giving Up on Mineral Wells Detention Center

Emerald Companies is refusing to give up on the idea of a proposed private detention center in Mineral Wells, despite a recent rebuffing by that community's city council ("ICE facility put on chill," Mineral Wells Index, April 16) according to an interview with the company's COO Steve Afeman in the Mineral Wells Index ("Emerald open to alternate locations for ICE center," April 21),

Emerald Companies is open to looking at other site locations in Mineral Wells for the proposed Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detention center, according to Chief Operating Officer Steve Afeman.

Mayor Mike Allen's decision to postpone any city council action on Emerald's specific use permit application at the proposed location northeast of Mineral Wells Municipal Airport in order to look for other potential sites has delayed the project but not killed it, according to Afeman.

“It's a curve in the road, it's not a dead end,” Afeman said. “It's still a good project, the need's still there.”

Afeman said he has been told that the main opposition from city leaders has been about the location near the airport rather than the prison itself.

Emerald entered into a 90-day option agreement, with the option for an extension, in January with the Industrial Foundation to buy nearly 62-acres northeast of the airport for $1 per acre. Emerald must meet certain criteria, including obtaining a specific use permit from the city, within the deadline to purchase the land.

As I've written before, it is unclear if this proposed facility is actually being solicited by ICE or if Emerald is merely saying that ICE wants a detention center.  Private prison corporations are notorious for building speculative prison beds, a practice that Emerald employed in its failed bid to build a family detention center in Caldwell County.  In that case, Emerald was rebuffed twice before finally giving up on the county and moving on, apparently to Mineral Wells. 

We'll keep you posted on developments from Mineral Wells.

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Opposition Emerges to Emerald Detention Center in Mineral Wells

Readers of Texas Prison Bid'ness may remember an Emerald Companies proposed immigrant detention in Caldwell County that was defeated after significant community opposition.  It appears that a similar groundswell of opposition may be rising in Mineral Wells, where Emerald has proposed another immigrant detention center. 

We first reported the new detention center proposal in February.  Now, the Mineral Wells city council has delayed a vote on the facility for 30 days and promised public hearings on the proposed facility, according to a thorough article by Libby Cluett in the Mineral Wells Index ("ICE facility permit tabled," March 19).  

Several citizens voiced their concerns Tuesday night over the city issuing a specific use permit to site the proposed Emerald Companies correctional and detention facility in the light industrial area near the Mineral Wells airport.

A group, including neighboring property owners and businesses, shared their diverse concerns, which led to a motion to table the decision to issue Emerald their needed permit to build an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detainee facility.

Some questioned the economic expense to the community versus the city’s potential gains. Others questioned moral issues regarding such ICE facilities.

Decision-makers in Mineral Wells may wish to look at the Grassroots Leadership pamphlet Considering a Private Jail? (PDF) or view our previous posts here, here, and here on prisons as economic development before moving ahead with the proposal.  We'll keep you posted 

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