Weatherford Democrat

March 13, 2013

Senate finance panel votes to close CCA prison


Weatherford Democrat

— By CHRIS AGEE | Lone Star News Group

MINERAL WELLS – If the majority of legislators on the Senate Finance Committee have their way, the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility will be closed in the near future.

The committee last week voted 11-4 to shutter the Corrections Corporation of America facility, located in Wolters Industrial Park in far western Parker County, which Warden Cole McKennon said would negatively affect the local economy and workforce.

“We’re disappointed in that decision,” he said, explaining that the 2,103-bed prison provides 301 jobs at full staff and has a yearly payroll of $11.7 million.

Additionally, McKennon says the facility pays the City of Mineral Wells more than $1 million per year in utilities.

“We spend lots and lots of money in the city,” he said, adding the facility has improved greatly in recent years.

“I’ve got a good prison,” said McKennon. “They used to criticize this place because of contraband but the contraband isn’t here anymore. We haven’t found a cell phone in more than three months.”

The decision to close the facility is not final.

“It still has to go through the House of Representatives and a few other steps,” McKennon explained. 

He noted the House can overturn the Senate’s vote, explaining he hopes members of that body take certain facts into account.

Mineral Wells City Manager Lance Howerton said local government is ready to present a fact-based campaign to the Legislature in favor of keeping the CCA facility open. “I think I can speak for the city organizations and the entire community that we were very disappointed this has been the direction this issue is going in the state senate,” he said. “Our feeling is this is not a decision based on any factual information but is more of a politically motivated decision.”

While he said some locals following the story might not see local officials openly speaking out, Howerton said they are making their case in a more appropriate forum.

“We’re not going to fight this battle in the news media,” he said, explaining the city will be “dealing directly with legislators, showing them the benefits of continuing the contract with the CCA, explaining there is “a lot of work being done behind the scenes.”  Howerton alluded to a “big battle being waged that the public won’t see every day.”