In spite of a presidential Executive Order-inspired ramp-up in immigration law enforcement efforts, many Texas county jails continue to struggle with a diminished population and growing debts. Detention centers have few, if any prisoners to fill their cellblocks.
Hope is around the corner to not only increase their population, but also improve their bottom line by “cashing in,” filling empty jail cells with undocumented immigrants.
Since the 1990s and dawning of the 2000s, rural counties throughout Texas lost employment prospects and residents. The move to build correctional centers was supposed to bring much-needed jobs and money by housing hundreds and, in some facilities, thousands of prisoners for the state and federal governments.
The initial success did not translate into long-term profitability. Declining crime and a move to alternative sentencing created more jail space than there were prisoners.
Empty cells equal growing debts. Onerous utility and maintenance costs are forcing the hands of Texas county leaders. Two options are available to them: house the growing number of detained immigrants or sell vacant detention centers to private prison companies who will do the same.
With jail space potentially at a premium, financially struggling facilities and private prisons may reap the benefits in what could be a boom evolving from a bust. In the last few weeks, three vacant detention centers have already been sold to privately held companies to potentially house detainees.
The Austin-based Grassroots Leadership, an advocacy group pursuing immigration and detention reform, has expressed serious concerns. In addition to the secretive process of holding detainees in private facilities, accusations have arisen over serious violations of inmate-care standards.