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Emerald Corrections

Questions raised over 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 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 assult. 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 filled at the facility could vary greatly. However, thathat will not impact the payment that Emerald receives. The contract Emerald has guarentees $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 Dept. of Homeland Security is reviewing whether private corporations should run immigration centers, 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."

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Emerald targets Mineral Wells for "ICE detention center" for third time

Emerald Corrections has come back to the city of Mineral Wells for a third time in an attempt to construct a 500-1000 bed speculative detention center.  This time, on a divided vote, the city council approved negotiations with the prison company.  According to the Mineral Wells Index ("Emerald receptive to negotiations," December 3),

The project to bring an immigration detention facility to Mineral Wells began moving ahead again Wednesday after the city council gave the go ahead Tuesday night.

Less than two months after the same agenda item failed for lack of support, the city council approved a resolution Tuesday night authorizing the Mineral Wells Local Government Corporation to continue negotiations with Emerald Correctional Management to build a detention facility in Mineral Wells.

Steve Butcher of the Industrial Foundation told the Index Wednesday afternoon the project seems to be moving ahead again.

As we've reported, Emerald has been rebuffed in Mineral Wells twice.  Locals were concerned about the placement of the first proposed facility near a business district, and then balked at Emerald asking the city to finance a prison the second time.  At that time, not two months ago, Emerald had this to say:

“That’s a pretty clear message that the city council has no interest in doing this project,” Steve Afeman, chief operating officer of Emerald, said Wednesday morning. “We’re not about to go back.”

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"A Death in Texas": More excellent coverage of immigrant detention complex from Tom Barry

Tom Barry continues his excellent coverage of the growing system of private prisons detaining immigrants for ICE, the U.S. Marshals, and the federal prison system in a new article in the Boston Review ("A Death in Texas: Profits, Poverty, and Immigration Converge," November/December 2009) online this week. 

Barry, whose excellent blogging over at the Border Lines Blog, has covered the growing immigrant detention industrial complex in the context of the mess that is the Reeves County Detention Center out in Pecos.  In this new article, Barry takes a comprehensive look at the policies and poverty that have driven poor rural Texas towns into the prison industry, and what some of the disasterous results have been.  Here's a brief sample:

Debbie Thomas, curator of the West of the Pecos Museum (commonly known as the cowboy museum), sighs when asked about the town’s only steady business over the past two decades. “Well, we don’t want to be known as a prison town, but it’s better than being a ghost town,” she says. Pecos was once a busy crossroads and hub of industry. Today, the downtown is dead.  In 1985 Reeves County became the first of a few dozen Texas counties to get into the speculative prison business, when Judge Jimmy Galindo (no relation to Jesus Manuel Galindo) persuaded the County Commissioners Court to take a bold step for Pecos’s economic future. At the time, Judge Galindo and other county leaders argued that Pecos could cash in on the surge in incarceration rates that accompanied the war on drugs. Years later, for the prison’s two expansions, the county and the private operators would rely on the federal government to send them immigrant inmates.

Emerald's bid for Mineral Wells detention center dead for a second time

Private prison corporation Emerald's second attempt to build a speculative immigrant detention center in Mineral Wells is officially dead, according to a story from the Mineral Wells Index ("ICE project deal dead," October 8):

A two and-a-half year effort to bring an illegal immigrant detention center to Mineral Wells ended Tuesday night with several long seconds of silence from city council members.

A resolution to continue negotiations with Emerald Correctional Management to build a detention facility funded by non-recourse revenue bonds issued by the Mineral Wells Local Government Corporation failed when council members failed to second a motion in support.

“That’s a pretty clear message that the city council has no interest in doing this project,” Steve Afeman, chief operating officer of Emerald, said Wednesday morning. “We’re not about to go back.”

The story itself has some interesting tidbits.  After private financing for the facility fell through, the company tried to convince the city to float revenue bonds to pay for the facility's construction.  The City Councilmembers were having none of it. 

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Mineral Wells rejects Emerald detention center financing deal

From the Mineral Wells Index ("Council declines Emerald finance proposal," October 7),

Mineral Wells City Council on Tuesday declined to second a motion to finance a proposed Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detention facility.

Emerald Correctional Management Company said it was unable to date to secure private financing for the 500- to 1,000-bed facility that would house detained or arrested illegal immigrants. The company asked the city to issue public revenue bonds to build the estimated $50 million project.

After a presentation during Tuesday's council meeting, council members asked several questions, and Councilman John Ritchie made a motion to approve the financing request. However, no member of council seconded the motion, and the motion died with no further action or discussion.

What that means for the project's future is not certain. The Index is working on the story and will post it later today.

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DHS to announce new reorganization plans; Will Mineral Wells move forward with Emerald's supposed ICE detention center?

Today, Department of Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano and Immigration chief John Morton will announce the second phase of a reorganization of the ICE detention system.  While the details are still hazy, it looks like it may not be good news for the private prison industry.  According to the New York Times ("Ideas for Immigrant Detention Include Converting Hotels and Building Models, October 6) article on the announcement,

The Obama administration is looking to convert hotels and nursing homes into immigration detention centers and to build two model detention centers from scratch as it tries to transform the way the government holds people it is seeking to deport.

These and other initiatives, described in an interview on Monday by Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, are part of the administration’s effort to revamp the much-criticized detention system, even as it expands the enforcement programs that send most people accused of immigration violations to jails and private prisons. The cost, she said, would be covered by greater efficiencies in the detention and removal system, which costs $2.4 billion annually to operate and holds about 380,000 people a year.

It always makes me wary to hear about plans to fix detention system plans by building new detention facilities.  However, the move away from private prisons and county jail contracts could be a good thing.  It's too early to tell if the moves will include closing some of the large and controversial private prisons holding immigrant detainees such as MTC's Raymondville "Tent City." 

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Emerald proposes second site in Mineral Wells for supposed ICE detention center

Private prison operator Emerald Corrections has proposed a second site for a purported immigrant detention center in Mineral Wells, according to an article in the Mineral Wells Index ("ICE site land deal closer," May 20).  A previous detention proposal by the company was rejected last month after widespread community opposition.  According to the MWI story,

Plans are progressing to purchase 187 acres in the northeast corner of Wolters Industrial Park to bring a maximum security facility to hold Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees to Mineral Wells.

“We’ve got the property under contract,” Steve Butcher, a recruiter for the Industrial Foundation, said. “It appears to be on track.”

The Industrial Foundation hopes to give roughly 30 acres to Emerald Correctional Management to build a 1,000-bed facility to house ICE detainees before they are flown out of Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.

They are currently doing a survey of the land, Butcher said, and have submitted a specific use permit application with the permission of the owners.

A public hearing on a specific use permit application has been scheduled for the planning and zoning commission on June 1. If it passes the planning and zoning commission, the city council will likely vote on the application at their June 2 meeting.

While clearly Emerald is telling city officials that this will be an ICE detention center, my reading of this and other stories is that there is most likely no contract with ICE for detainees.  That feeling is compounded by signals from Washington saying that there will not be a massive detention expansion this year. 

More Opposition to Mineral Wells Emerald Detention Center

The proposed Emerald Detention Center in Mineral Wells continued to draw opposition at last Thursday's public hearing on the prison proposal, according to an article in the Mineral Wells Index ("ICE project gets chilly reception," April 6, 2009). 

Nearly 20 people spoke, almost all voicing concerns with the proposal. “Our concern is property value surrounding it,” Alex McKee, ranch manager for Bunker Hill ranch, said. The facility would be located on the south and east borders of Bob Minyard’s ranch.

McKee said they have cleaned up the area and created a 20-acre lake for possible future home developments in the Harvey Road area and are concerned that a detention facility would devalue property.

“Our concern is visitors,” David Brock, vice president of business development for Hydroscience Technologies Inc., said. Brock said he is concerned about the traffic of visitors to the facility coming and going. “I’m not sure in the long-term interest, this is the right way to go,” Brock said.

Despite the opposition of the majority of the 90 people there, city leaders continue to push the prison,

“As mayor, and I believe that I can speak for some or all of our council members, as well, I feel that this is a project which is worth while and would be beneficial to our community,” (Mayor) Allen said, before introducing Steve Afeman, chief operating officer of Emerald Companies.

“We’re the company that had the escape [last weekend and] … want you all to know that it’s not a perfect science,” Afeman said to start out the night, saying the transportation officer did not follow rules and regulations. “He’ll be lucky to retain his job at this point.” ....

Emerald's Afeman then went into details about the facility which raised questions to me...

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