Today the 566-bed facility, called the La Salle County Regional Detention Facility, sits almost empty behind thick coils of razor ribbon in tiny Encinal, whose 579 residents barely outnumber prison beds. Another border detention center was destroyed in a riot by prisoners after cost-cutting efforts led to deplorable conditions. Another, on the banks of the Rio Grande River, is slated to close next month after too few inmates walked through the doors to keep up with big debt payments.
“The number of people detained and incarcerated for immigration matters hasn’t kept up with the pace of construction for these new beds,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an advocacy organization based in Austin, Texas, that opposes private prisons.
The drop-off follows an almost two-decade boom that saw the number of immigrant detainees mushroom, partly as a result of more people crossing into the U.S. and partly due to a get-tough attitude toward illegal border crossers. County jails grew overcrowded.