“The Rainmakers” in Hardin, Montana move on to Arizona
Why would a small town saddle itself with $27 million in bond issues to build a prison with no guarantee of bodies to fill it? In this month’s In These Times, Montana freelance journalist Beau Hodai details the dubious ways that a small private prison contractor—in this case Corplan Corrections, a Texas-based consortium of “construction companies, bond underwriters, consultants and small private prison operators,”— convinced this hard-on-its-luck town to build a prison to drag itself from the doldrums. Two-and-a-half years after completion, the 464-bed prison continues to gather dust, while the town has defaulted on its bonds. In the fall of 2009, city officials signed a contract with a private security force that promised to get the prison up and running; the American Police Force turned out to be all bluster and no bite, a shady concern with little financial power to help out tiny Hardin.
Hodai points out this is a gig that may be up for private prison companies. “…. with the prison population leveling out and more states facing budgetary crises, lawmakers have questioned the wisdom of stiff sentencing guidelines. Consequently, the private-prison industry has moved onto the greener pastures of immigration detention centers.”
Enter Benson, Arizona. Undaunted by the mess it left behind in Hardin, Corplan reps have been meeting privately with Benson officials to suggest the town build an immigration detention facility for women and children, tentatively called the “Family Residential Center of the Southwest.” Corplan and its subcontractors would be paid through bond issues, and the town would eventually see profits via the per-diem fees that the federal government would pay for each detainee. (This is a carbon copy of the sell in Hardin.)
This week, Benson residents attended the first public hearing on the proposal, as reported by Thelma Grimes in the San Pedro Valley News-Sun. Some residents have complained that the plan has taken shape without their input. Mayor Mark Fenn told them:
” I realize that the nature of the center is very controversial. Do we as a city put our foot down and say as Americans we don’t support this? At some time there could be up to 150 well-paying jobs. You have to balance all that. How much of our political opinion do we interject into city business? I will go on record saying I don’t completely endorse this facility. The company may have a checkered history and background and a lot of questions to answer on finances.”
He also said that if the facility isn’t built in Benson, “it will be built somewhere else where another city could reap the economic benefits.” Possibly, at least according to Corplan’s president James Parkey. On the company’s website, he says plainly: “Now, there are many more communities wanting detention centers than are available. But if your community qualifies, Corplan Corrections will make it possible for you. We may even be able to show you how your community can qualify.” You will qualify, almost guaranteed —to see why, check out Hodai’s piece.