Benson warned on private detention center
Published: Wednesday, April 28, 2010 10:40 AM CDT
Thelma Grimes/San Pedro Valley News-Sun
Allowing a private detention center to operate in Benson is not in the city's best interest said Michelle Brane, the director of the detention and asylum program for the Women's Refugee Commission.
In fact, Brane said private prisons like the proposed 200-bed facility are "horrible for rural communities."
Corplan Corrections, a Texas Company, wants to build a 104,000-square-foot facility to house mostly women and children who are in the country illegally.
The company known for building prisons and detention centers in the U.S., has promised the city big payouts if they sponsor the $27 million bonds needed to pay for the prison construction.
Representatives of Corplan, including Toby Michael and James Parkey, have told city officials and council members that the bond is paid for through federal funding.
Corplan Corrections has already selected a 25-acre parcel that would hold the facility, that they are calling a "Family Residential Center of the Southwest," near Benson Municipal Airport.
However, Brane said the promise of federal funding is not a true statement.
"I have spoken to the Department of Homeland Security, and the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement because if Corplan were to get funding, it would be from them," she said. "At this point there are not any (request for proposals); there have been no discussions with the federal government. Nothing is a sure thing and in fact I would say highly doubtful."
City Manager Glenn Nichols said city staff has moved forward with investigating whether this would be a good economic move for the city, and it will be discussed by the City Council during the May 10 regular meeting.
Nichols said the biggest concern remains accountability.
"We have seen nothing in writing from the Department of Corrections that this would definitely be funded," he said.
The second concern is the city's liability if the bond were to go into default. Corplan Corrections says there is no liability on the city's part, but Nichols said they are not completely sure.
Nonetheless, the direction the city will take will depend on how the council votes on May 10. Nichols said the council will be presented the information, discuss it and vote to either move forward with the process or stop it.
Corplan Corrections has painted a picture of great economic promise if Benson moves ahead with the project.
In closed-door meetings with council members, Corplan has promised a federally funded facility that would house 500 women and children in the country illegally and would create up to 150 jobs.
The city has also been told they would get an increased revenue stream of $218,000 a year.
Similar facilities have been proposed in New Mexico and Texas, and one became a failure in Hardin, Mont., where the city signed off on $27 million in bonds in 2007 for a 200-bed facility.
The facility was constructed, but to this day sits empty with no federal grant funding or per diem fees as promised by Corplan Corrections.
Kim Hammond, mayor of Hardin, has warned cities like Benson to tread lightly when considering the proposals brought forth by private companies like Corplan.