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Not so fast, San Jacinto County votes against for-profit immigrant detention center already approved in Shepherd

Emerald Correctional Management is coming up against more community opposition to its proposed immigrant detention center north of Houston. This time, their proposed new immigrant lock-up has found opposition from the San Jacinto County Commissioners Court.

San Jacinto County Commissioners passed a resolution on December 8 in opposition to the proposed new immigrant detention center, according to The Cleveland Advocate (SJC commissioners approve resolution to oppose immigration detention facility in Shepherd area, Dec. 9, 2015).

The vote comes just weeks after the prison company’s representatives persuaded the city of Shepherd, which sits inside San Jacinto County, to let the company pursue a bid with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for a new detention center in the city.

County Judge John Lovett said at the December 8 meeting that the proposed location for the project lies mostly within an unincorporated area of the county and outside of the city limits of Shepherd. County Judge Lovett also pointed out at the hearing that the special meeting called by Shepherd had little public attendance.

The Advocate also reported that residents of both Shepherd and San Jacinto County have protested the project for various reasons. One person who spoke against the proposal to the Shepherd City Council in November was Cleveland Mayor Niki Coats. Cleveland City Council voted against the proposal when Emerald was shopping it around to them in October.

Mayor Coats told Shepherd officials in November that “What they told us was sweet.” He also said that his own research into Emerald Correctional Management and the immigrant detention system at large led him to vote against letting the company pursue a bid in his city.

For-profit prison company Emerald Correctional Management LLC is based in Shreveport, Louisiana and has been at the center of a lot of back and forth in trying to find a home for their new immigration lock-up. During a October 6 at Cleveland City Council Emerald Companies’ Executive Vice President Hull Youngblood explained why a bid in Cleveland was offered, then revoked and then offered again. Youngblood told council members that an offer to nearby Plum Grove was rejected by the landowner, causing them to return to Cleveland. When Cleveland City Council voted against the bid, Emerald took their pitch to Shepherd, which gave Emerald the thumbs up just six days later.

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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