Making a prison deal? ‘Tent-city’ options considered

RAYMONDVILLE — Two years after it closed, the former “tent-city” prison is apparently a hot piece of property.

Today, Willacy County commissioners will meet to consider options that may include offers to operate the facility, County Judge Aurelio Guerra said.

Until this month, Guerra did not publicly disclose any offers for the facility closed since an inmate uprising destroyed much of the former Willacy County Correctional Center in February 2015.

“For the past two years, we’ve had offers as far as operators wanting to go in there,” Guerra said. “We have other parties, just as before, being interested in the facility.”

Guerra declined to disclose the names of the interested parties.

President Trump’s push to deport undocumented immigrants convicted of crimes has fueled interest in the facility, Guerra said.

“It seems in a sense there’s been an interest because of what’s happening nationwide,” he said. “We’re delighted because of the fact it’s going to open to create jobs.”

In today’s meeting, commissioners are expected to meet with their attorney in closed session to consider a possible business deal.

“All options are on the table,” Guerra said.

According to the meeting’s agenda, commissioners plan “to deliberate about the purchase, exchange and value of real property.”

Commissioners also plan “to discuss or deliberate about commercial or financial information from a business prospect,” the agenda states.

This month, county officials and Management & Training Corp., the former prison’s operator, announced they are working with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement to reopen the facility as a detention center holding undocumented immigrants.

In December 2016, the county filed a lawsuit against MTC, arguing its “abysmal mismanagement” led to the inmate uprising that destroyed much of the prison made up of tent-like domes, plunging the county into financial crisis.

The lawsuit argues overcrowding and plumbing problems created “deplorable” inmate living conditions, raising tensions and leading inmates to destroy much of the 3,000-bed prison.

MTC denied the allegations, arguing it conducted “frequent comprehensive audits to make sure the facility was safe and clean and that it met all federal BOP standards.”

Last week, commissioners met with county-contracted attorney Ricardo Morado to discuss “legal matters related to litigation or the settlement of litigation.”

At the time, Guerra said commissioners were considering options including settling the MTC lawsuit.

The 3,000-bed prison was vital to this farming area now struggling with a jobless rate hovering near 13 percent.

The closure of the prison, which paid the county for every inmate it housed, plunged the area into financial crisis, leading to 400 employee layoffs while slashing a third of the county’s $8.1 million general fund budget.