By CHRIS AGEE
After 11 of 15 members on the Senate Finance Committee voted last month to close the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility, many in the community have expressed concern over the possible loss of about 300 jobs and revenue generated by the prison.
However, the House has not voted to close the Corrections Corporation of America-owned facility, and Rep. Jim Keffer, R–Eastland, said he will continue to fight for the local employer.
"I strongly support keeping the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility open," he said Tuesday in a statement to the Index. "The facility provides quality jobs for the community, operates at a lower cost than state jails, and continually improves its operation."
Warden Cole McKennon and City Manager Lance Howerton told the Index shortly after the Senate vote the facility is an important part of the Mineral Wells economy.
"We spend lots and lots of money in the city," McKennon said, explaining previous criticisms of the facility's security and the prevalence of contraband are no longer applicable.
He said "the contraband isn't here anymore. We haven't found a cell phone in more than three months."
Additionally, McKennon noted the facility has undergone more than $900,000 in upgrades since 2007, including the installment of high-tech security cameras, metal detectors, reinforced fences and other surveillance equipment.
Sen. Craig Estes, R–Wichita Falls, represents Palo Pinto County and serves on the finance committee that voted to close the facility.
One of the four dissenting votes, Estes agreed with McKennon that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, not the Legislature, should decide which prisons should be closed.
He added the House can still reverse the decision and said he would do his best to explain why the prison is important to Mineral Wells.
"Nothing is over until it's over, so I'll continue to use every means possible to try to keep the facility open."
Keffer said the House and Senate disagree on the issue, adding upcoming negotiations will determine the facility's future.
"While the Texas Senate voted to cut funding for the facility, the Texas House of Representatives did not include this cut in our version of the appropriations bill," he said. "Due to conflicts between the Senate and House budget bills, both chambers will enter into a conference committee to negotiate budget items such as the prison."
City Manager Howerton assured locals city leaders will do everything in their power to make the case for keeping the facility open.
He said that includes "dealing directly with legislators" by showing them the prison is "good for the citizens and taxpayers of Texas."
Working with state lawmakers and CCA representatives, Howerton said he will explore all options available prior to a final decision on