New immigrant detention projects are particularly attractive to county governments because immigrants are considered minimum security risks and don’t require the correctional services – education, health care, and job training – offered other prisoners. James Parkey, owner of the prison consulting firm Corplan, says that his company has “developed a philosophy of building these facilities in communities that need jobs and economic development.” Corplan has been instrumental in developing immigrant detention centers in Polk and Willacy counties in southeastern and southern Texas.
"We were looking at a myriad of ways to broaden revenues when this option walked in the door [in the form of Corplan],” explained Polk County Judge John P. Thompson remarked in 2006 when the project got underway. “Now it appears this facility is going to help us with that very soon."
On the county’s website, Polk County Judge’s Office boasts that not only does “this type of alternative revenue source for the County lessen the local tax burden,” but additionally the Secure Adult Detention Facility utilizes local business and workforce for construction and operation, providing an even greater benefit to our economy.”
The contract with Community Education Centers, the private prison firm operating the center, guarantees a minimum fee of $100,000 annually, but the judge’s office says the county realized more than double the guaranteed revenue in the first seven months of operation.” Less than a year after the $15.4 million center was completed, Polk County and CEC launched an expansion of the detention center. The county projects that the immigrant detention will net the county $1 million in revenue in 2008.
“Like most local governments everywhere, Polk County found it tougher and tougher to fund essential services in the face of public resistance to higher taxes,” observed Texas County Progress magazine in a report on this increasingly popular economic development option.
On the occasion of President Bush’s visit to southern Texas in early August 2006, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency of Homeland Security, hailed the opening of the first phase of a 2000-bed lockup for immigrants in Willacy County. “The first 500 beds are open and accepting illegal aliens apprehended at the Southwest border,” said ICE.
Joining in the celebration of the opening of the new jail beds for immigrants, Willacy County Judge Simone Salinas said, “Willacy County recognizes that homeland security is a shared mission. We are proud to have been able to bring on these new detention beds in record time, which will result in improved border security not only for county residents but also our nation.”
"You talk about economic development, this is it," Salinas told a reporter, noting the county's initial cut is $2.25 a day, per occupied bed.”A year later, a new agreement with ICE for another thousand beds was greeted enthusiastically by some officials in Willacy County, one of the poorest counties in the nation.
The new county judge Eliseo Barnhart said the expansion of the immigrant detention center run by Corrections Corporation of America will “bring jobs that are needed in Willacy County and it means income, which we desperately need.” According to Barnhart, the detention center will create about 200 new jobs within the Raymondville’s (county seat) sprawling prison complex – which locals call “Prisonville.”