Proposed private prison stirs controversy in McAllen


POSTED: Thursday, September 12, 2013 - 4:04pm

UPDATED: Friday, September 13, 2013 - 7:10am

A proposed private prison prompted many McAllen residents to voice their concerns at a community hearing last night.  The mayor and other city officials listened as citizens expressed their opinions about the proposal.

"If it's a chance to provide a facility that makes sense for McAllen, then we're gonna take a look at it," said Jim Darling, Mayor of McAllen.

But the question of whether or not the city of McAllen should build a for-profit prison was answered with a resounding 'no' by the community at Wednesday night's public forum.

"I think a private prison anywhere is a problem because a prison for money is gonna create a demand for prisoners, and that's why we are definitely against the private prisons," said Samantha Magdaleno, anti-prison activist.

The proposal involves working with GEO Group, the second-largest for-profit prison company in the country.  Promises of economic development as a result of adding a private prison are enticing McAllen city officials.

"They say $1.5 million to $2 million in income to the city of McAllen, that's one of the reasons we're looking at it, and so we'll have to make sure it's worthwhile," said Darling.  "I don't want to get $2 million if it's not worthwhile to the city and we have problems we don't anticipate.

ACLU attorney Carl Takei knows exactly what problems McAllen can anticipate.  Takei works on private prison cases across the nation and says these prisons do more harm than good for the cities that they occupy.

"The economic development is actually not near what it's been chalked up to be," Takei explained.  "The potential risk for the reputation of the city and becoming known for having one of these horrible detention facilities run by a company like GEO Group, it's a really bad deal for the city."

City officials will decide whether or not to negotiate with GEO Group at the next city commissioners meeting on September 23.

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