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Emerald Corrections to open new ICE detention center in Alvarado

Emerald Companies sold the city on the idea of floating debt to build the detention center.
In November, the 700-bed Prairieland Detention Center is scheduled to open in Alvarado, Texas, a remote town in Johnson County 40 mines southeast of Dallas. The facility will be operated by Emerald Correctional Management, a Louisiana-based private prison corporation that manages six other facilities and has faced allegations of mistreatment of detained immigrants and shady contracting practices at other facilities.


The detention center will include a 36-person unit specifically designated to detain transgender immigrants, a practice that LGBTQI advocates decry as inhumane because transgender individuals are particularly vulnerable to physical and sexual assaults while in custody. Olga Tomchin, a staff attorney at the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, told Fusion, “ICE has shown over and over again that they’re incapable of detaining trans people with even minimal levels of dignity or safety.”

In June 2015, as county officials were breaking ground for the new detention center in Alvarado, 35 U.S. Representatives sent a letter to to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson urging him to end the detention of LGBTQI individuals. An excerpt from the letter reads, “These individuals are extremely vulnerable to abuse, including sexual assault, while in custody, in particular, transgender women housed in men’s detention facilities.”

Prairieland will be the second facility with an ICE contract in Johnson County, where the Johnson County Law Enforcement Center also currently detains immigrants for the federal agency. According to the Cleburne Times Review, Commissioner Rick Bailey was concerned that the county should not rely on two ICE facilities given the volatility of immigration laws. “I am concerned about ICE going away,” Bailey said in a Johnson County Commissioners meeting in early 2015.

These concerns are not unfounded, as Emerald suddenly pulled out of a contract with LaSalle County for a detention center in Encinal, Texas in late 2014 after the facility’s population decreased. This left the county with $20 million in debt, and county officials scrambling to run the facility without the resources or corrections knowledge for the job.

Despite the risks and opposition from some local officials, as well as national LGBTQI and immigrant advocates, the county approved the contract and the facility is slated to open in November 2016.

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UPDATE: Prison company packs up and leaves LaSalle County, $20 million in debt

In a story earlier this year that reviewed the many examples of private prison companies leaving Texas towns high and dry, Bloomberg Business highlighted the story of the LaSalle Detention Center in Encinal, Texas.

The immigrant detention center was opened in 2004 with almost $22 million in revenue bonds, over the concerns of many local residents who said Emerald Correctional Management LLC of Shreveport, Louisiana, was painting too rosy a picture.

Bloomberg reports that County Judge Joel Rodriguez Jr. said Emerald suddenly pulled out all inmates, leaving the county with empty beds, a leaking roof and almost $20 million in debt issued by the county's public facilities corporation.

“My fear’s always been that this would happen. When this facility was sold to the county, they sold it as a money-making facility that was going to be a great economic boon,” Rodriguez told Bloomberg.

Since then, the county has assumed responsibility for the facility while Emerald still showcases the facility on their webpage. As of the story's publication in August, Bloomberg reports that the 566-bed facility sits almost empty. Encinal has a population of 579 residents.

Emerald’s track record in LaSalle County didn’t scare officials in Shepherd, Texas. The Houston Chronicle reported that the city council voted 4-1 in favor of Emerald’s plans to build the detention center, clearing the way for the company to pursue its bid with ICE.

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