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The federal government is looking to increase private prison beds

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is looking to increase the number of beds prisons, reports CNN.

In April, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) issued a notice stating they were looking to increase the number of beds in Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) facilities. These facilities are operated by private prison companies and are used to incarcerate non-citizen immigrants who are mostly convicted of low-level drug offenses or civil immigration offenses. In the U.S. there are 11 such facilities, operated by three private companies: CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), the GEO Group, and Management and Training Corporation. The addition of over 1,500 beds would take the overall population of immigrants in CAR prisons to over 22,000.

This shift is the opposite of what the Obama administration planned for the future of these federal prisons. Last August, then Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates released a memo stating that the DOJ would begin to phase out the use of private prisons in the federal prison system. The original goal from the Obama administration was to reduce 7,000 beds by May 1st. That memo and plan was overturned by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who rescinded Yates’ previous memo.

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Could newly closed correctional facilities be turned into immigrant detention centers?

The Texas House and Senate both proposed to close four state correctional facilities to help lower the state budget, reports the Texas Observer.

The facilities set to be closed are Williamson County’s Bartlett State Jail, Wise County’s Bridgeport Pre-Parole Transfer Facility, Mitchell County’s Dick Ware Transfer Facility, and Terry County’s West Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility. According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, these four facilities cost the state $51.2 million dollars every two years. Together they hold 1,755 prisoners. The closing of these prisons is a rare positive development out of the Texas legislature (see anti-immigrant SB4, family detention centers licensing), with three of the four being operated by private prison companies CoreCivic and Management and Training Corporation (MTC).

If the recommended closures pass the legislature, the state would retain ownership of the Bartlett State Jail and the Dick Ware Transfer facility, as they were operated by MTC yet owned by the state of Texas. CoreCivic and the city of Brownfield, who own the Bridgeport Pre-Parole Transfer Facility and the West Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility respectively, would be free to sell their facilities or find new prisoners to house there.

This worries activists, who fear that the facilities could be turned into ready made immigrant detention centers.

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Private prison working on permits to demolish existing parts as they look to reopen notorious facility

Willacy County Regional Detention Facility
A private prison company is working on getting permits to continue their push to reopen the Willacy County Detention Center, reports KRGV 5.

On Monday, Management and Training Corporation (MTC) went with Raymondville officials to inspect the facility as they work to reopen the Willacy County Detention Center. Following the inspection, MTC officials said they plan to demolish ten prison tents that were damaged in a 2015 prisoner uprising. Eleazar Garcia, Raymondville's city manager, said MTC required permits to tear down the structures. Garcia said it would take about a day to process the permits.

Raymondville officials hope that the reopening of the facility will lead to a rebuilding of their economy. The facility could bring between 150 and 200 jobs to Raymondville.

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Willacy County prison to be inspected next week

The owners of the Willacy County Detention Center are taking a step forward in reopening the facility after more than two years with an upcoming inspection, reports KRGV 5.

The Willacy County Detention Center is known by critics as "Ritmo" — short for Raymondville's Guantánamo prison. It is owned by Management and Training Corporation (MTC), a Utah-based private prison company. Though it has been closed for more than two years, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had expressed interest in reopening the facility following presidential orders increasing border security and immigration enforcement. Officials from MTC and the city of Raymondville, where the facility is located, will inspect the facility Monday at 10 a.m.

Raymondville Mayor Gilbert Gonzales said MTC officials were eager to reopen the facility. “They’re going to start working on the facility itself right now to start repairing the damage, and also to make sure they’re up to specs. We’ll have our code enforcement officer here,” he said.

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Former Willacy County prison guard sentenced to 18 months in prison

A former Willacy County prison guard has been sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for bribery, reports CBS 4 News.

Harry Cordero, a former guard at the Willacy County Regional Detention Center, was charged last November with two counts of bribery and one count of providing contraband in prison. Cordero accepted bribes to allow alcohol and a cell phone into the prison in December of 2015. Following the conviction, Cordero was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release.

Cordero and another inmate, Stephen Salinas, were both guards at the Willacy County Detention Center, which is operated by the Utah-based private prison company Management and Training Corporation. The men were employed at the facility before it was closed in 2015, when it was destroyed in a prisoner uprising. Prisoners had received poor medical attention and neglect, which led to the uprising.

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Willacy prison could return to original purpose under ICE

Willacy County Regional Detention Facility
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has expressed interest in re-opening the Willacy County Correctional Center, reported the Brownsville Herald.

County officials say that comments from President Trump surrounding increased border security have led to increase interest in immigrant detention centers, as ICE looks for more bed space to detain undocumented immigrants. County Judge Aurelio Guerra said "I’m optimistic we should be able to arrange something out with an operator and a branch of government."

He also said "There seems to be a lot more interest here with this presidential administration. The demand is more toward ICE. Where we are geographically, with our proximity to the border, plays a big role."

However, county officials have yet to make statements on any potential economic impact or the number of jobs created.

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Limestone County signs new agreement to fill private detention center

A new agreement between Limestone County and the U.S. Marshals Service will help fill the county's privately run detention center, reports KWTX 10.

LaSalle Corrections, the Louisiana-based private prison company that operates the facility, signed a new contract with Limestone County last summer to take over operations of the facility. Due to the facility being closed for a few years, LaSalle said it needed to renovate the facility before the company could bring in prisoners from nearby counties. The facility then reopened when the first group of 17-year old prisoners from Harris County transferred to the facility.  

County Judge Daniel Burkeen said officials are "the most encouraged in years" that the facility will be filled once again. A group of prisoners were recently brought to the newly reopened facility last Friday, though numbers of prisoners at the facility are still low. Staff at the facility are currently working to renovate empty buildings so they can be ready for future use. The facility has the capacity to detain 1,000 prisoners.

County Judge Burkeen then said that the agreement with the U.S. Marshals Service will also open the door for immigrant prisoners detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be detained at the facility.

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Two former private prison guards plead guilty to bribery

Two former private prison guards pleaded guilty to charges of bribery from their time working at the Willacy County Regional Detention Facility, reports CBS 4 News.  

Last November, Stephen Salinas and Harry Cordero were arrested by the U.S. Marshals for accepting bribes from prisoners in return for bringing alcohol and cell phones into the prison. Cordero pleaded guilty on December 21, with his sentencing hearing to be held on March 27. Salinas pleaded guilty on January 3, and will receive his sentencing on April 11. Both men face three to 10 years in prison.

Limestone County Detention Center is back in business

The Limestone County Detention Center in Groesbeck, Texas, is now officially back in business, as reported by KWTX.

As reported earlier, Limestone County signed a new contract with LaSalle Southwest Corrections, a private prison company. The contract saw LaSalle take over the prison and renovate it before moving 55 Harris County juvenile prisoners  into the newly opened prison. As stated when the contract was announced, the Limestone County Detention Center will be used to detain 17-year old Harris County inmates. While there are only 55 in the renovated center now, Limestone County Judge Daniel Burkeen believes that hundreds more will be moved to the facility after the first of the year. The warden, Charles Vondra, said that the population should grow to about 600 or 650 inmates.

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Downtown Houston lockup to be closed this month

The South Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility in downtown Houston is set to be closed this month, reports the Houston Business Journal.

The facility was first proposed to be closed in August of this year as part of a 4 percent budget cut that Texas state agencies had to make for the 2018-2019 biennium.  The South Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility is operated by Management and Training Corporation (MTC), a Utah-based for-profit prison company. MTC employed about 115 people at the facility. The company is now looking to "place the affected employees at other facilities and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is also recruiting them for possible employment."

The prisoners currently detained at the intermediate sanction facility in downtown Houston, who number about 400, will be moved to the Kegans State Jail, also in Houston. Approximately 400 low-level prisoners will then be moved from the Kegans State Jail to Lychner State Jail in Humble, which has enough beds to house the prisoners coming in.

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