“Our interest in the Harwell Detention Center stems from a history of concerns about the facility.” said Denise Gilman, a University of Texas-Austin law professor. “There were strong incentives for the county and the private facility management company to seek contracts with ICE whether or not the facility was appropriate for immigration detention.”
In fact, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards found multiple non-compliance issues at the facility in 2012. The facility is run by a private prison company who expected that the federal government would supply enough immigrant detainees to ensure that the facility was profitable.
“If any facility is unable to comply with the standards, ICE should ensure that immigrants are not detained there.” said Barbara Hines, also a University of Texas law professor. “It does not appear that ICE officials adequately considered the situation at the facility before sending immigration detainees there.”
According to ICE’s own proclamations, a penal environment is not appropriate for immigrant detainees — the majority of whom have recently crossed the border and have no criminal history at all. “It is very clearly a penal institution,” added Hines.
A story out of McLennan County in Central Texas this week reminds us how private prison companies’ incessant pursuit of profit can end up hurting local governments.
After finishing out the current fiscal year with the jail $2 million over budget, McLennan County officials, including law enforcement, judges, and prosecutors, are looking to streamline the local justice system and cut jail costs. McLennan County Judge Scott Felton told KWTX News 10 that the county could save $2 million a year by reducing the prison population by 10 percent.
But, there’s a catch.
Any savings would be offset by a deal the county struck with private prison corporation LaSalle Corrections in May, which requires the county to pay LaSalle for 325 prison beds at the Jack Harwell Detention Center, regardless of whether or not there are prisoners to fill them. In other words, even if the county reduces the number of people behind bars, which would save money and strengthen communities, the county remains obligated to fill LaSalle’s pockets with taxpayer dollars.[node:read-more:link]