ISF not in DOJ crosshairs

November 7, 2016

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A move to close more than a dozen private prisons around the nation won’t affect Brownfield’s city-owned corrections facility, according to officials.

The West Texas Intermediate Sanction Facitlity (ISF) has been a significant local employer since it opened in 1991 and that doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon, said City Manager Eldon Jobe.

“The ISF has been a great addition to the City of Brownfield for a long time,” he said. “It provides dozens of good jobs for our citizens and it generates roughly $20,000 a month in income for the city. I’m glad we have that facility.”

With the announcement in August that the U.S. Department of Justice will end its long-standing use of privately owned prisons to house federal inmates, communities that are home to such facilities were sent scurrying.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced the decision in a memo that instructs officials to either decline to renew the contracts for private prison operators when they expire or “substantially reduce” the contracts’ scope.

The goal, Yates wrote, is “reducing — and ultimately ending — our use of privately operated prisons.”

“They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security,” Yates wrote.

While experts said the directive is significant, privately run federal prisons house only a fraction of the overall population of inmates.

The vast majority of the incarcerated in America are housed in state prisons — rather than federal ones — and Yates’ memo does not apply to any of those, even the ones that are privately run.

The Brownfield ISF houses state prisoners.

Yates said the Justice Department would review the contracts for those facilities as they come up for renewal, as all will do in the next five years.

She said they would then be reduced or allowed to expire, though none would be terminated prematurely.

Following the DOJ announcement, cities like Post, 50 miles east of Brownfield, went into panic mode, lobbying for the facilities to remain open and wondering how to replace the hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars of payroll they provide.

Post officials have another concern — more than $9 million in outstanding bond debt on the Giles W. Dalby Correctional Facility, located there.

The abrupt closure of a city-owned corrections facility in Littlefield several years ago left that city reeling with the loss of the lease income and no way to pay the bond debt.

Brownfield’s ISF is debt free, Jobe said.

The City issued $3.2 million worth of general obligation bonds in 1991 to pay for the facility.

“One of the best things Brownfield’s leaders did when they opened the ISF was to finance it with 10-year bonds,” he said. “So many cities choose 30-year bonds and it feels like you just never finish paying for them. Not only is our building paid for and debt free, but it is a revenue generator for us.”

The City is paid $2.50 per inmate, per day for use of the building.

With an inmate population of between 250 and 275, the ISF adds roughly $250,000 to City coffers annually.

Brownfield’s current city budget includes a $450,000 expenditure to replace the rough on the structure, but the building remains in good shape, according to Jobe.

“It was built 25 years ago, so replacing a roof now is not out of line and that will extend the life of the building to continue operations for years to come,” he said.

Like Post’s facility, the ISF is leased and operated by Management & Training Corporation, a private company based in Centerville, Utah.

Susan Payne, ISF Warden, was unavailable to comment for this story, however Jobe said she indicated the Brownfield unit would remain immune from the DOJ decision to close privately owned facilities.

MTC has managed the local facility since 2001. The company is the third and longest lessee of Brownfield’s ISF.

The facility was managed previously by  Concept Inc. and Corrections Corporation of America.

“MTC has been a good partner for Brownfield and they take good care of our building,” Jobe said. “They provide dozens of good jobs and support local businesses. Their payroll is a big part of our diverse local economy. I feel very confident in the future of our ISF.”

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