The President of the Nacogdoches Economic Development Corporation actually had the nerve to tell the paper, "Once they see this facility, no one's going to want to break out. They're going to want to break in." Hmmmm. Wanna bet? Reporter Matthew Stoff contacted me for the story and also Texas Prison Bidness blogger Bob Libal, giving the blogosphere a particularly strong voice in the article. Reported the Sentinel:
MTC, which operates five other prisons in Texas, has been criticized for its operation of several facilities, especially an immigrant detention facility in Raymondville, known as "Tent City" because of its prefabricated, windowless appearance.
"MTC is certainly a company that has run into numerous problems and controversies over the years," said Bob Libal, who is the Texas coordinator for the private prison watchdog group, Grassroots Leadership, and who co-authors Texas Prison Bid'ness, a blog that tracks issues related to Texas prisons. "The Tent City example is certainly an egregious one. There have been maggots in the food at Tent City ... Really terrible conditions you hear about in some of these private prisons."
Libal's blog also recorded federal charges filed against four MTC employees in Brownsville for apparently smuggling illegal immigrants using a company van.
Bell responded to the criticism, saying the company is committed to meeting federal standards for prisons. "No one can make any guarantees that something won't draw criticism, but overall, our practice is to run a good, secure correctional facility to ensure that we meet compliance of the contract." Some oversight by federal employees would provide an additional assurance of quality, Bell said.
Scott Henson, a public policy researcher who authors the Grits for Breakfast blog about Texas criminal justice, said the private prison industry as a whole faces an uncertain future in the U.S. The demand for prison beds to house immigrant detainees may decline with changes to federal policy dictated by the next president, he said.
"The rise in the need and demand for immigration beds is a result of very specific policies," Henson said. "Expansion in cases for Texas U.S. Attorneys in the last 3 years is incredibly dramatic. That was a choice. They could choose not to do it when the next president gets in.
"Who's the next president going to be, McCain or Obama? Both of them favor comprehensive immigration reform. Do you think their attorneys general are going to continue the high rates of prosecution? Probably not. Do you think that once we have comprehensive immigration reform, immigration detention facilities will be a viable investment? Probably not."
Henson also said the prison could hurt Nacogdoches' tourism and its efforts to recruit retirees.
"When Nacogdoches gets in the newspaper, I know that the chamber of commerce would prefer that it not be because prisoners had maggots in their food," he said. "One nasty story in the Dallas news about mistreatment there, and all those Dallas retirees all of a sudden say, 'Well, maybe I'll go to Tyler.'"
Dr. Gregory Hooks, a sociologist at Washington State University, said his research casts further doubt on claims that prison construction can bolster economic development. His paper, published in Social Science Quarterly in 2004, examined every prison in the U.S. and its impact on surrounding counties.
"We find no evidence that prison expansion has stimulated economic growth. In fact, we provide evidence that prison construction has impeded economic growth in rural counties that have been growing at a slow place," the paper concluded.