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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...

The Emerald run facility would undergo several inspections each year, according to Afeman, including an annual ICE audit, an unannounced ICE audit, a 3 day audit by an ICE private contractor, and an annual Texas Jail Commission inspection.

First, does Emerald actually have a contract from Immigration and Customs Enforcement to build this detention center?  In none of the media that I've read about this proposal detention center has an ICE spokesman been quoted saying that the facility has been solicited by the agency.  Second, Afeman is actually incorrect in saying that the Texas Jail Standards Commission would inspect the facility.  As the law is currently written, TCJS cannot go into private facilities housing only federal prisoners, though SB 1690 would reverse that.

If we find the answers to these questions, we'll let you know...

Emerald Mineral Wells Prison Hearing Set for Thursday

A controversial proposed Emerald detention center in Mineral Wells will be the subject of a public meeting, albeit one facilitated by the private prison company, on Thursday, according to an article in the Mineral Wells Index ("ICE detention facility public hearing set for Thursday at MWHS," March 31).

The Mineral Wells City Council is hosting a question-and-comment time Thursday evening at the Mineral Wells High School cafeteria on the proposed Emerald Companies correctional and detention facility.

Emerald will be presenting information on the proposed facility to hold Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees at the 6:30 p.m. meeting. The public will also have a chance to comment on the project. The meeting was scheduled after city council members agreed to table the issue of a land use permit at the March 17 city council meeting.

Emerald Companies entered a 90-day option agreement in January with the Industrial Foundation to obtain nearly 62 acres northeast of the airport to build a detention facility. 

Several things jump out at me about this story.  First, this hearing appears to be an attempt by Emerald to diffuse criticism that was aired at a hearing earlier this month.  Particularly, Mineral Wells residents spoke against the potential economic negative impacts that the prison could bring to the community, a concern confirmed by the research on the subject. These concerns, amongst others, led Caldwell County residents to reject two similar detention centers last year.  

Second, while Emerald has consistently stated that this facility will be an ICE detention facility, I'm skeptical that ICE has actually solicited this facility.  Rather, I'd imagine that this facility is being built on speculation that they will get an ICE detention contract, which, given Mineral Wells location an hour and a half west of Dallas, does not seem to be a given.

Third, I wonder if Emerald will address lawsuits and scandals that have dogged several of its facilities, including its detention center in La Salle County.  In that county, ongoing disputes over the management agreement have led the county to sue Emerald over breach of contract issues last year.  The complaint is attached to this post.

We'll let you know what happens in Mineral Wells tomorrow.  

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Emerald Corrections Building New ICE Detention Center in Mineral Wells

Emerald Corrections appears to be fast-tracking a proposed immigrant detention center in Mineral Wells, according to an article in the Mineral Wells Index ("ICE facility project heating up; Federal detention facility plans moving forward," February 13),

Emerald Companies will be submitting permitting and zoning plans to the city this week as the next step toward building an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detainee facility in Mineral Wells.

“I see no stumbling blocks or hindrances at this point,” Steve Afeman, chief operating officer of Emerald Companies, said.

The Mineral Wells Industrial Foundation and Emerald Companies entered into an option agreement Jan. 15.

“Basically, they’ve got 90 days to exercise their option … or they don’t get the land,” Industrial Foundation’s Steve Butcher said. “This makes us [feel the project] is moving ahead.”

Mineral Wells is already home to a state-contracted Corrections Corporation of America pre-parole and transfer facility that was the site of four smuggling arrests last year and at least one riot.  See Nick's three part investigative series for more information. This facility also seems to spark considerable interest in our readers, with many family members commenting on conditions at the facility and many defenders of the prison posting lengthy rebuttals of our posts.

The major questions that jump out to me on the current Emerald proposal are:

  1. Is there a need for yet another ICE detention facility in Texas?  See the Detention Watch Network's map of detention facilities in Texas for a graphic illustration of the growing system of immigrant detention in Texas.  Is there any guarantee that the Obama administration will continue the policy of ever-expanding detention capacity?
  2. Who will pay for the financing of this facility?  Several counties have floated substantial debt to build federal detention centers, often to mixed results.  More information on this practice available at PublicBonds.org
  3. Is there already a contract for ICE detainees to be held at the facility or is this a speculative prison in a place where Emerald is hoping for a contract.  These are certainly different propositions. 

We'll let you know if we discover the answers to these questions and more news from Mineral Wells.  

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