By CHRIS AGEE
Announced last week as a way for locals to get involved in the effort to save a local employer, a letter campaign has sparked activity from a significant number of individuals who have either signed a prewritten letter or drafted their own.
The Mineral Wells Area Chamber of Commerce recently prepared a letter in support of the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility, owned by Corrections Corporation of America.
Chamber Executive Director Beth Henary Watson said residents were waiting at the door before the chamber opened Thursday, anxious to add their names to the growing wave of support for the facility.
After being targeted for closure in previous years – primarily based on the recommendations of Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston – the State Senate recently passed a proposed budget that would shutter the local prison.
Local leaders say a closure would mean the potential loss of more than 300 jobs and significant economic contribution through taxes and other expenditures.
Watson said the Chamber faxed about 250 letters to representatives in the House and Senate while many others opted to take advantage of a downtown retailer’s offer to fax letters to the same recipients.
According to an employee at Bennett’s Office Supply, staff at that location have sent about 22 copies of the letter to the offices of both Rep. Jim Keffer, R–Eastland, and Sen. Craig Estes, R–Wichita Falls.
The letter campaign is part of an overall push to plead CCA’s case to state lawmakers. Local leaders in government and business, including Mayor Mike Allen, City Manager Lance Howerton, Industrial Foundation President Richard Ball and Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Beth Henary Watson, recently traveled to the state capitol where they shared the facility’s positive impact on the community with a number of elected officials.
According to those who carried the message to Austin, CCA provides lower cost prisoner housing than state-operated facilities while offering inmates greater opportunities prior to re-entering society.
The facility, which boasts the highest level of high school equivalency graduates in the state, also spent nearly $1 million in previous years to combat security issues. Mayor Mike Allen explained such issues were the primary excuse Whitmire used in lobbying for the facility’s closure, adding the problem is now under control.
Though a conference committee consisting of representatives from both legislative branches is expected to vote on a final budget soon, citizens can still join in on the letter campaign. Copies of the letter are available at the Chamber, 511 E. Hubbard St., and at Bennett’s Office Supply, 400 N. Oak Ave.