Mineral Wells dealt blow as prison contract gets cut

Posted Wednesday, Jun. 12, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Facing a $97.3 million budget reduction over the next two years, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has decided not to renew contracts with the privately run Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility and the Dawson State Jail in Dallas.

Officials in Mineral Wells say they will suffer an economic blow from the decision.

Contracts with the two facilities will end Aug. 31, the end of the state’s fiscal year, and inmates will be transferred to other state prisons in coming months, department spokesman Jason Clark said Tuesday.

“They will no longer be receiving offenders at either one of those facilities. At Mineral Wells we have been drawing down the numbers for some time and it currently houses about a third of its capacity,” Clark said.

As of Tuesday, there were 796 inmates at the Mineral Wells minimum-security prison, which has a capacity of 2,100. The Dawson State Jail now houses 2,201 inmates. Both facilities are run by the Nashville-based Corrections Corp. of America.

“The Legislature made clear their intent to reduce bed capacity and we are moving forward to do that,” Clark said, noting that there are 150,522 inmates in the state prison system, which has about 161,000 beds.

“We have the ability to absorb these offenders. We looked at a number of different factors when making the decision. We looked at our capacity needs, we looked at safety and security, the design of the facilities and other factors when making the decisions not to renew the contract for Dawson and Mineral Wells,” he said.

State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, who fought to keep the prison open as the Legislature grappled with budgeting issues, said it was a “very, very uphill battle from the get-go.”

“It wasn’t just the TDCJ; there was a state auditor’s report. What we were up against was that everybody that looked at it decided these are the two facilities that needed to be shut down,” he said.

The other side of the argument, King said, was that the state does need to close facilities.

“I think TDCJ is rushing the matter, it’s very frustrating, but at the end of the day they made their minds up to close that facility,” he said.

“It’s going to be a serious hit for Mineral Wells,” King said. “Dallas can absorb those job losses a lot easier.”

Corrections Corp. of America houses more than 80,000 inmates in more than 60 facilities, 44 of which are company-owned, with a total bed capacity of more than 90,000, according to the company’s website. The company partners with three federal corrections agencies, 16 states and more than a dozen municipalities as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Mineral Wells City Manager Lance Howerton said that at full capacity CCA employed about 275 people.

Local officials have estimated that the prison has an $11.7 million annual payroll, pays nearly $2 million each year in utilities and more than $75,000 in local property taxes and buys nearly $250,000 in local goods and services.

“This will be a significant impact to our economy. CCA has done a lot of purchasing locally; they are a major element of our economy. They are also the city’s largest water and sewer customer,” Howerton said.

Beth Watson, executive director of the Mineral Wells Chamber of Commerce, said the compqany has been a vital employer for more than 20 years.

“In a smaller city like Mineral Wells, everyone knows someone that works at CCA so it will have that personal impact,” she said. “But we have a very diverse economic base, particularly on the manufacturing side. We will continue to move forward.”

Trickle-down impact

From hospitals to hardware stores to local charities, the closure will ripple across Mineral Wells, residents say.

Leslie Bradshaw, the owner of Ace Hardware, said CCA is one of her best customers.

“It is going to mean some big changes for us. We are going to have to rethink some things,” she said.

Prisoners were routinely treated at Palo Pinto General Hospital, CEO Harris Brooks said.

“They have been good partners and a strong employer in our community. The loss of those jobs will be detrimental to Mineral Wells,” he said.

Annette Bennett of Bennett’s Office Supply & Equipment said the closure will have a “huge trickle-down” impact.

“They aren’t high-end jobs but they are jobs that have been dependable. People could go out there and make a good living,” she said.

Beth Williams, a board member of the Palo Pinto County United Way, said the prison is a major part of the community.

“They hold a fundraiser for us every year and they send out work crews to local nonprofits to clean buildings and do landscape work,” she said.

“You can’t go to the grocery store or the Wal-Mart without seeing someone in a CCA uniform.”

Steve Campbell, 817-390-7981 Twitter: @stevecamp

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