Private prison company will build 1,000-bed detention center in Conroe as part of Trump’s deportation expansion plans
GEO Group, one of the nation’s largest for-profit prison companies, announced Thursday that it will build a 1,000-bed detention center for immigrants in Conroe under a contract that is part of a major expansion of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s deportation programs as ordered by President Donald Trump.
The $110 million facility, expected to open in 2018, will join three existing ICE detention centers in the Houston metro area - the others are located next door in Conroe, in Livingston and Houston - making the metro area a major hub for U.S. immigration detention and deportations. Together, the four centers will have a capacity to hold 3,000 adult immigrants, said Greg Palmore, a spokesman for ICE in Houston.
At any one time, ICE currently holds about 40,000 detainees nationwide, though the numbers are expected to grow. More than 60 percent of ICE detainees already are housed in for-profit prisons under government contracts.
GEO Group already is one of the nation’s largest for-profit prison companies - and the announcement makes it the first private prison company to secure a contract to build a new immigration detention facility under the Trump administration. The Boca Raton-based business already contracts with both ICE and with the U.S. Marshall’s service to hold detainees and federal prisoners at 24 detention centers with a capacity of 23,000 beds nationwide, said Pablo E. Paez, vice president for corporate relations in an e-mail to the Chronicle.
“We are very appreciative of the continued confidence placed in our company by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” said George C. Zoley, GEO’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer in a press release.
But Thursday’s announcement generated ire from civil rights leaders who fear that immigrants’ rights will be violated to find enough deportees to fill all of the newly-built and leased prison space.
“This is just the first step in the administration’s planned expansion of immigration detention, which promises an enormous boondoggle for the private prison industry. If implemented, President Trump’s blueprint for mass deportation will tear apart families and bring to life some of his worst campaign rhetoric,” said Carl Takei, staff attorney at the ACLU National Prison Project:
GEO Group also has been negotiating this year to purchase space for more ICE detainees by acquiring empty jails from at least two other Texas counties, though Paez declined comment. The company already operates the 1,500 Corley Detention Center in Conroe, which is near the proposed site of the new 1,000-bed facility on Hilbig Road.
The 1,000-bed facility is scheduled for completion in the fourth quarter of 2018 and is expected to generate approximately $44 million in annualized revenues, the GEO Group announced in its press release. ”
Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal said he expects the newly-announced Conroe detention center to generate 308 new jobs as well as property taxes for Montgomery County.
Montgomery County in 2008 built the existing Joe Corley Detention Center near the county’s older jail with public bonds. It was initially described as a future county lock-up, but immediately was leased to GEO Group and has always held a mix of ICE detainees and other federal prisoners. In 2013, county leaders sold the jail to GEO Group for $65 million in a deal that generated controversy from critics like Bill O’Sullivan, of the Texas Patriots PAC, which has argued that public money should never have been used to help a private for-profit prison operation.
Montgomery County still earns revenue from the federal detention contracts at Corley, Doyal said.
The new Conroe facility will be part of the same complex and will share a parking lot. But it will be built entirely with private money - and the county will neither review the contract nor share the revenue, Doyal said. For that reason, Doyal said he does not anticipate any public hearings will be held by the county to review the project.