Mineral Wells Index, Mineral Wells, TX

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December 5, 2012

Prison again targeted for closure

As he did two years ago, State Sen. John Whitmire, from Houston, wants to close CCA’s Pre-Parole Transfer Facility in Mineral Wells

By CHRIS AGEE

State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, recently suggested closing the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility along with a state jail in Dallas.

Whitmire – who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee – told the Index several factors contributed to his recommendation.

“All the indicators are that the prison populations are going to continue to drop for a variety of reasons,” he said, explaining the sound economic response is to close down underperforming facilities.

He said he chose the Mineral Wells facility because it “gets poor reviews for its treatment program” and “it is often on the very short list of the worst risk prisons in terms of configuration and construction.”

Whitmire said he has never personally visited the facility but has seen reports of security problems.

“It’s not a done deal,” he said. “It’s on the table for discussion; it’s a privately run prison.”

He conceded the “jobs are important to the community” but explained the facility is unnecessary.

“If you don’t need it, why do we spend money we don’t have?” he asked. “We ought to celebrate that we can spend less tax dollars.”

Mineral Wells Mayor Mike Allen said Whitmire has suggested closing the local facility before.

“He did that a couple of years ago,” Allen said. “We fought that ... and it actually made sense to keep it here at that time.”

At that time, he said, Whitmire claimed the facility “had one of the largest problems with contraband,” though the facility has spent considerable time and money on improvements in the intervening years.

If Whitmire’s recommendation moves forward, Allen said the city will fight to keep the facility in Mineral Wells open.

“They are a good corporate neighbor and I think they’re very important to this community,” he said.

He speculated the city’s reaction would be similar to the course local leaders took when Whitmire targeted the facility before.

“We sent letters to [State Rep. Jim] Keffer and [State Sen. Craig] Estes,” he said, noting the city also contacted Whitmire but “never got a reply from him.”

In response to Allen’s concerns, Whitmire said, “He ought to worry about the community of where the prison resides,” explaining a security breach is inevitable “if you don’t keep contraband out of the prison.”

Cole McKennon, warden at the local facility, issued a statement to the Index in response to the Whitmire’s recommendation.

“For the past 17 years, CCA’s dedicated employees at the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility have consistently provided the state-needed capacity in a rehabilitative environment that provides real savings to taxpayers and meaningful recidivism-reducing programs to offenders,” he said.

Though Whitmire’s statements include allegations of security problems at the facility, McKennon said employees “work hard to ensure that the facility meets or exceeds CCA’s expectations and, more importantly, those of our government partner.”

An assistant to Keffer, R-Eastland, said Monday morning the legislator will be briefed on the issue and will contact local leaders potentially affected before issuing a statement.

Estes, R-Wichita Falls, did not respond to the Index’s request for comment.

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