Texas Town Looks to Prison Relaunch for Revenue Boost

RAYMONDVILLE, Texas — For more than three years, the agricultural community of Raymondville has been anticipating the reopening of a prison that was once one of the town’s largest moneymakers — the Willacy County Correctional Center. The area is in fact still hurting from the closure of the facility in 2015, which slashed one-third of the county’s budget and led to 400 employee layoffs.

But now, according to the Valley Morning Star, Management and Training Corp. (MTC), the owner of the facility, has announced it is closer to finalizing a contract to hold inmates at the site of the former 3,000-bed facility sometimes known as “‘tent city.”’

Raymondville Mayor Gilbert Gonzales stated that MTC is planning to open a detention center expected to create 50 to 75 jobs; for Willacy County, the proposed 1,000-bed detention center would also annually bring approximately $1 million a year into its finances, reported the Valley Morning Star. Gonzales has said the reopening would add jobs, boost local business and raise sales and property taxes.

However, MTC spokesman Issa Arnita was more reserved in his speculation, stating that his group doesn’t have a signed contract in place yet though he’s hopeful a resolution is close, according to The Brownsville Herald. Arnita added he could not disclose the number of jobs that might be generated at this stage, which he said might be dependent upon the details of the contract.

MTC is reportedly closer to entering into a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to host about 900 detainees in the 1,000-bed concrete housing unit at the 53-acre site of the old tent-city prison.

Last year, Willacy County sold the former 3,000-bed prison property to MTC after bondholders insisted on payment of a $68 million debt. As part of the sale, an agreement will pay the county $3 a day for every inmate held in the facility — and based on a daily headcount of 900 detainees, the county would receive about $985,000 annually.

The shuttering of the 3,000-bed “tent-city” prison, which paid the county for every inmate it held, chopped away one-third of the Willacy County’s $8.1 million general fund budget, nudging the area into financial desperation.

In early 2015, rioting inmates decimated much of the minimum-security prison made up mainly of 10 tent-like Kevlar domes before the Federal Bureau of Prisons terminated MTC’s contract to hold inmates there. The prison’s closing spurred the layoffs of 400 employees, who were paid some of the highest wages in the county.

Since that time, Willacy County administrators have negotiated with MTC to agree on a contract to fill the former prison site and generate jobs in this rural area strapped with high unemployment. MTC removed the tent-like domes on the site last year while revamping the remaining 1,000-bed concrete housing unit.