Tent City Prison To Bring Additional Funding to Willacy County

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - 8:48am

A federal correctional facility in Raymondville known as “tent city” is undergoing some major changes.

“It has been switched over from the homeland security ice department to over to the Bureau of Prisons,” says Willacy County Judge John F. Gonzales Jr.

The facility used to house only illegal aliens but has now switched over to illegal aliens who have committed a crime. The recent change allowed Gonzales and officials to set up a new contract with the Bureau of Prisons. Under the new contract the federal government will pay the county $2.50 per bed filled. A twenty-five cent increase from the previous agreement.

“As of last week there were about 200 inmates and they are estimating about bringing in around 80 per week,” says Gonzales.

The facility is currently operating at about ten percent occupancy but the county is receiving federal funding for fifty percent ($1.3 million annually). Gonzales says that once the facility actually does reach half capacity the federal funding will pay for ninety percent of the facility’s beds ($2.3 million).

“If we pass fifty percent occupancy then we will never go back to less than ninety percent funding,” says Gonzales. “So if they decide to start pulling prisoners out of there and we dip below ninety percent occupancy we still get the funding for ninety percent.”

Gonzales says the extra funding is a positive for the local economy but there are some concerns.

“We have to realize that these monies aren't there forever and we need to wean ourselves off of these monies over the next four years.”

The judge doesn’t want the county to become too dependent on a system that may not last.

“In four years the federal government could very well say that they will not renew it,” says Gonzales. “If that happens we will have a huge structural deficit in our budgets.”

Gonzales says he will be proposing ideas to the commissioner’s court by the end of the month to start alleviating the dependency of the new money brought in from the tent city prison.

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