By CHRIS AGEE
Following a strong show of support from city leaders and residents, the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility is now closer to being saved from impending closure.
Sen. John Whitmire, D–Houston, has recommended closing the Corrections Corporation of America-owned facility for several years, citing security concerns at the prison.
Local leaders say CCA has spent nearly $1 million in recent years to improve security and note the comparatively low cost of operating the private facility.
Representatives from government and business recently traveled to Austin in an effort to state the city’s case for keeping the facility open, and hundreds of residents signed letters of support.
The most promising news for preserving the facility, which potentially employs more than 300 individuals, came last weekend in an amendment by State Representatives Jim Keffer, R–Eastland, and Phil King, R–Weatheford.
According to an aide in Keffer’s office, the House approved the amendment Saturday, giving the Texas Department of Criminal Justice a directive to close prisons on the basis of operational cost.
“I really appreciate the effort Representatives Keffer and King are making in this and they deserve to be commended,” Mayor Mike Allen said Monday, though he cautioned, “We’re not out of the woods yet.”
The amendment was still awaiting its third reading in the House when Allen spoke to the Index and he explained the Senate would still have to approve it before the facility could be considered saved from the budgetary ax.
“It’s a start,” he said. “It’s a good sign, but it’s not the answer yet.”
Eleven of 15 members of the Senate Finance Committee voted in March to close the local facility, along with another CCA-owned prison in Dallas. A budget proposed by the House, however, does not target specific facilities, opting rather to provide funds to the TDCJ and allowing it to determine which facilities to shut down or streamline.
Cole McKennon, warden of the local facility, joined local leaders in expressing the opinion the agency is more capable of making such determinations than legislators in Austin.