By CHRIS AGEE
Local government and business leaders recently completed a daylong sweep of the State Capitol in an effort to save the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility operated by Corrections Corporation of America.
With help from local representatives in the State House and Senate, Mayor Mike Allen, City Manager Lance Howerton and Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Beth Henary Watson met with representatives from strategic offices Thursday.
The CCA-owned facility was targeted for closure by the Senate in a recently passed budget proposal, but the House budget would instead provide funds to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to determine when and where to make such closures.
The trio of local representatives used their opportunity with state representatives to share their support of the House proposal.
“We view this as somewhat of an arbitrary decision members of the legislature wanted to make,” Howerton said, which he said was “based on erroneous information and a bias, to a certain extent.”
Allen explained a conference committee consisting of members of both chambers will ultimately negotiate a final budget. Sen. John Whitmire, D–Houston, who initiated the push to close the local facility, also happens to sit on that committee, he added.
“We wanted to go into why Whitmire picked out the Mineral Wells facility – that was their problem with contraband – and make sure they all knew CCA spent almost $1 million and essentially solved the problem,” Allen said.
From an economic standpoint, Watson said the facility offers benefits beyond the approximately 300 local jobs and significant tax revenue.
“The two economic points that really go into our favor are the $10 per day, per person less in inmate cost compared to the state average,” she said, “also the fact that their programming in terms of developing inmates to re-enter the workforce and society is unique in the state.”
In addition to life skills and vocational training, Watson said the facility’s rate of high school equivalency program graduates is the highest in Texas.
The three ambassadors to Austin met with representatives from seven offices, including the Governor, Lt. Governor, and Speaker of the House.
They also met with representatives with a vested interest in the matter, such as Rep. Sylvester Turner, D–Houston, who serves on the conference committee, and Rep. Tan Parker, R–Flower Mound, who serves as the House Corrections Committee chair.
“We started out in the office of Rep. Jim Keffer and talked with him for a while,” Allen said. “He set up a meeting in his office with the Chief of Staff of the Speaker of the House, Jesse Ancira. Keffer was very, very supportive and him being there was very important for the first meeting and getting things started.”
In addition to Thursday’s meetings, the local leaders spoke with the office of Rep. Myra Crownover, R–Denton, during a conference call Friday.
Looking back, all three emissaries believed the mission was not only justified but beneficial.
“At the end of the day, I feel the trip was necessary and effective because some offices we visited were not aware of why this facility was targeted and we were able to communicate that message firsthand,” Watson said, explaining in many cases “they were not going to hear it from anybody but us.”
Howerton agreed, saying many representatives “had heard all the supposedly negative things associated with [the CCA facility] and we were able to share what we think are the positives.”
He expressed gratitude to Keffer, Sen. Craig Estes, R–Wichita Falls, and Rep. Phil King, R–Weatherford, for working to set up meetings with state legislators, especially busy with the demands of the current legislative session.