By CHRIS AGEE
Despite the best efforts of local leaders and state representatives, the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility is headed toward closure.
Along with it, the community will lose up to 300 local jobs and significant economic contribution through taxes and other operating expenses.
The Corrections Corporation of America-owned facility had been targeted for closure in recent years but an outpouring of support for the employer resulted from the latest attempt by legislators to shutter its doors.
Local governmental and business leaders traveled to Austin earlier this year in an effort to make the city’s case for keeping the facility open. Additionally, hundreds of area residents responded to a Chamber of Commerce call to sign letters of support, which were then sent to state legislators.
State Representatives, Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, and Phil King, R-Weatherford, recently passed an amendment allowing the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to decide which prisons to close based on cost analysis.
Upon House approval of the amendment, many locals expressed a cautious optimism concerning the facility’s future.
State prison officials recently upheld previous recommendations, though, by deciding not to renew contracts for the Mineral Wells facility. Another CCA-owned prison, Dawson State Jail in Dallas, is also on track for a similar fate.
Prior to the decision, Place 1 City Councilman and CCA employee Kevin Harrison described the mood at the facility.
“We’re not sure [about the future],” he said. “We’ll just have to wait and see what they decide.”
Until they were told otherwise, he said employees continued to perform their prescribed duties.
“Moral is still high,” he said. “Everybody is still working hard and being treated fairly.”
A TDCJ spokesperson explained the CCA contracts will be allowed to expire Aug. 31. At that time, inmates from both facilities will be transported to other transfer centers.
Though the Mineral Wells facility can accommodate 2,100 inmates, it housed just a fraction – 796 – earlier this week.
Despite setback, Chamber says “the world has not ended”
Mineral Wells Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Beth Henary Watson was among the leaders who traveled to the state capitol on behalf of the CCA facility. Although the ultimate decision was not what she had hoped for, she said the local support was not in vain.
“The chamber is just really appreciative of everyone in the community – businesses and individuals – who expressed their support for CCA by calling our elected officials, sending letters, faxes and emails,” she said. “I think our voice was definitely heard and I think our city’s delegation to Austin did make a difference.”
In the face of “an uphill battle from the beginning,” Watson said she is grateful for the outpouring of concern from leaders across the region.
“We appreciate Reps. Keffer and King and Sen. [Craig] Estes doing everything they could for us,” she said.
Instead of dwelling on the impending CCA closure, Watson said the chamber is available to help those affected rebound.
“We will do anything we can ... to help employees of CCA as they move into this new stage,” she said. Though the city faces an economic hit, Watson encouraged locals to remember the positive trends evident in expansions at PecoFacet, Valair, and Watkins Metal Fabrication, among other area employers.
“There are a lot of really positive things,” she said. “The world has not ended and the town is not going to fold up and go away.”