Brownfield’s city-owned prison will soon be vacant.
The West Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility (ISF) will transfer its inmates and shut its doors by June 2, according to Warden Lepher Jenkins.
The facility’s chief administrator told the Brownfield News on Tuesday that preparations are underway for the closure and he was preparing to inform his staff of the plan.
“I hate it, but when the Senate passed their budget, it sealed the deal for us,” he said. “We’ll work to make as many opportunities as we can for the staff.”
Jenkins said Management Training Corporation, the private firm that contracts with the city to run the prison for the Texas Departent of Criminal Justice, will assist employees in the transition.
Currently 78 people draw paychecks from the ISF, according to the warden.
MTC will transfer any employee who is willing to relocate to other communities where the company operates prisons.
The nearest one is the federal prison located in Post, which ironically was threatened with closure earlier in the year, but dodged the axe and currently is operating normally.
Jenkins said the company will work with Workforce Solutions to help employees find jobs and also said TDCJ will “try to place as many of them as possible.”
He expects most of the ISF inmates to transfer to the adjacent Rudd Unit. The ISF houses roughly 270 parole violators.
Jenkins met with city officials Tuesday to inform them of the impending closure and work out the details to release the building back to the city.
“Quite a bit needs to be done after the inmates leave, so we’ll be here for a few days,” he said. “There will need to be some cleanup and property identification and paperwork to finish.”
Other Texas facilities on the chopping block are the 500-bed Ware Unit in Colorado City, the Bartlett State Jail in Williamson County, and the Bridgeport Pre-Parole lockup northwest of Fort Worth.
In all, state officials have confirmed that more than 2,700 prison beds could be taken off line in the move, reducing the size of Texas’ prison system to about 145,000 — 10,000 less than its capacity just three years ago.
More than 400 employees will be affected by the prison cuts, but officials said many will be offered jobs at other lockups. The Bartlett and West Texas ISF units are run by private contractors.
In addition to the jobs affected, closure of the ISF will impact City coffers as well.
MTC pays the city roughly a quarter million dollars annually for the contract.
City Manager Eldon Jobe told the News that most of those funds go back into line items for maintenance of the ISF facilities.
“We put the majority of that money right back into the building and if we have a surplus, it just goes into our general fund,” he said.
This year’s city budget includes $400,000 for a new roof on the 25-year-old facility, but Jobe said he “put the brakes” on that expenditure when the fate of the ISF came under doubt.
“We’re holding off on that until we find out what is going to happen,” he said.
The ISF opened in 1994 and is debt free, paid for with a 10-year bond.
Another blow to the city would be the loss of the facility as a utilities customer.
The ISF is one of the Top 10 consumers of electricity and water on the city’s infrastructure.
“It’s been a great facility for the city and a good employer for a lot of years,” he said. “I really hate to lose it, but now we just have to see what happens and go to work to find a use for that building. I think some opportunities might present themselves before too long.”
Texas operates 109 state prisons, jails and other lockups statewide. It is the largest state prison system in the nation.
Most of the lockups on the list for closure were opened in the 1990s during Texas’ massive building program that tripled the size of its prison system in five years, to allow the state to avoid court fines and litigation to address chronic overcrowding.
In recent years, treatment and rehabilitation programs have proven successful at lowering recidivism rates, resulting in the state incarcerating more than 10,000 fewer convicts than it did a decade ago.