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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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Big Stories of 2012 - #3 - CCA Offers To Buy State Prisons in Return for 90% Occupancy Guarantee, Gets Rejected

To round out 2012, Texas Prison Bid'ness is highlighting the top private prison stories of the year, based on stories covered by our blog.  Our number three story of the year is Corrections Corporation of America's bold offer to buy prisons from 48 cash-strapped states, including Texas, in exchange for long-term guarantees to keep the prisons 90% full.  

TPB Big Story #3 - CCA Offers To Buy State Prisons in Return for 90% Occupancy Guarantee, Gets Rejected

First reported in the Huffington Post in February, Corrections Corporation of Ame

rica wrote a letter to 48 governors offering to buy state prisons and give states an infusion of quick cash.  What was the catch?  In exchange, CCA wanted a 20 year management contract and guarantee that the prison will remain at least 90% full.  As Frank wrote at the time, the deal highlighted one of the fundamental flaws of the for-profit prison model: the need to maintain high numbers of incarcerated individuals regardless of the impact on our tax base and our communities. 

broad coalition of advocacy groups, including the ACLU and The Sentencing Project and many faith organizations, urged state governors to reject Corrections Corporation of America’s (CCA) offer to purchase state and local jails. The groups were joined by Texas State Senator John Whitmire, long-time chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee who told USA Today:

"You don't want a prison system operating with the goal of maximizing profits," says Texas state Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat and advocate for reducing prison populations through less costly diversion programs. "The only thing worse is that this seeks to take advantage of some states' troubled financial position."

Thankfully, it appears that no one has taken up CCA on the offer thus far.  We'll be monitoring the situation over the next year, as bed-guarantee offers will undoubtedly be a continuing story for some time. 

Dean of Texas Senate rejects CCA prison purchase proposal

Yesterday, Frank wrote that the ACLU, Presbyterian Criminal Justice Network, and a broad coalition of civil rights and faith leaders were opposing CCA's recent offer to buy state prisons in return for states maintaining 90% occupancy at these facilities.  

Now, these groups are being joined by Texas State Senator John Whitmire, the Dean of the Senate and long-time chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.  Whitmire, speaking to USA Today ("Private purchasing of prisons locks in occupancy rates," March 8th), had this to say:

"You don't want a prison system operating with the goal of maximizing profits," says Texas state Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat and advocate for reducing prison populations through less costly diversion programs. "The only thing worse is that this seeks to take advantage of some states' troubled financial position."

Former Kansas Secretary of Corrections Roger Werholtz also warned against the temptation of a "quick infusion of cash" saying,

"[m]y concern would be that our state would be obligated to maintain these (occupancy) rates and subtle pressure would be applied to make sentencing laws more severe with a clear intent to drive up the population."

Here's hoping state leaders in Texas and beyond see through this proposal. 

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