RAYMONDVILLE — Big questions surround a federal decision to “phase out” private prison contracts.

Yesterday, it was unclear whether the Obama administration’s decision would affect Willacy County’s chances of reopening the prison that once provided a third of its income.

The Department of Justice announced plans to “ultimately end” its use of privately operated prisons.

But Willacy County Judge Aurelio Guerra said it was unclear whether the government’s decision will affect the possibility of reopening a scaled-down version of the Willacy County Correctional Center.

“That would be speculation,” said Issa Arnita, spokesman for Management & Training Corp., the Utah company that operated the so-called tent-city prison.

Arnita said the government’s decision will not impact its operation of the county-owned U.S. Marshal’s prison, which pumps about $360,000 in annual revenue into county coffers and employs about 180 workers.

County officials have been counting on the Federal Bureau of Prisons to accept MTC’s proposal to hold inmates at the prison that closed last year.

“We were counting on that, relying on that, to bring us back financially — and the jobs,” Sheriff Larry Spence said. “You get gun-shy, wondering ‘What next?’”

MTC has offered to accept the BOP’s request for a private-prison operator to run a 1,200- to 2,000-bed “low-security” prison.

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