McAllen mulls 1,000-bed private prison - Brownsville Herald: News

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McAllen mulls 1,000-bed private prison

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Posted: Tuesday, July 2, 2013 8:00 am

McALLEN — Know a thing or two about running private prisons? McAllen wants your resume.

This week, McAllen plans to publish a formal request for qualifications — experience, financial information and references — from private prison operators willing to build a 1,000-bed lockup. The new jail would accept federal inmates under McAllen’s existing agreement with the U.S. Marshals Service.

Key details, including the jail’s location, haven’t been worked out.

The deal would dramatically reduce travel and logistical headaches for the Marshals Service, which shuttles inmates from privately-operated prisons in Laredo and La Villa to McAllen for court hearings.

“There is a great need to have their prisoners held in a facility that’s local,” said police Chief Victor Rodriguez.

McAllen currently holds about 30 federal inmates at the Public Safety Building on Bicentennial Boulevard, blocks from the federal courthouse on Business 83 in Bentsen Tower. If they’re convicted, the inmates move to federal penitentiaries equipped for long-term confinement.

The federal government pays McAllen $52 every day for every inmate housed at the Public Safety Building, Rodriguez said.

As proposed, the new jail would hold inmates under McAllen’s existing agreement with the Marshals Service. In exchange, the jail owner would pay McAllen. Exactly how much remains subject to negotiation, Rodriguez said.

A Marshals Service spokesman in Houston wasn’t able to answer questions about the agency’s inmate holding arrangements on Monday.

City officials have been working on the private prison deal for more than a year.

Last spring, The Monitor learned about McAllen’s discussions with GEO Group, the private prison company based in Boca Raton, Fla. At the city’s request, The Monitor didn’t report the news to avoid tipping off potential competitors and skunking the deal.

Other local governments, including Hidalgo County, have previously discussed building or expanding jails to hold federal inmates.

While researching the idea, Rodriguez visited the Joe Corley Detention Facility in Montgomery County. GEO Group owns and operates the jail, which holds inmates for the Marshals Service and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“As a matter of policy, our company cannot comment on potential future development projects,” said Pablo E. Paez, vice president for corporate relations at GEO Group.

Rodriguez also visited a Laredo detention center run by Corrections Corporation of America.

In February, the City Commission started discussing the project during closed-door meetings under the code name “Project Stripes” — a reference to old-school jail uniforms. Issuing a formal request for qualifications is the next step.

“We’re in the very early stages,” Rodriguez said.

The City Commission still must approve the project and negotiate a contract.

Building the jail would cost about $50 million, Rodriguez said, and employ 300 people. Unlike a government-owned jail, the private prison would pay property taxes.

With 1,000 beds, the new jail would become Hidalgo County’s second-largest lockup.

It would be slightly bigger than the East Hidalgo Detention Center, a 900-bed prison in La Villa owned by the Louisiana-based LCS Correction Services, but smaller than the Hidalgo County Detention Center, the county-run jail built to hold about 1,200 people.

LCS Correction Services couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.

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