Reopening of local detention center will boost county’s economy

(Photo by John Carroll)
(Photo by John Carroll)(KWTX)
Published: Sep. 27, 2016 at 4:33 PM CDT
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The reopening of the county-owned Limestone County Detention Center, which has been shuttered for more than three years, should provide a boost to the area economy.

The county signed a contract this summer with LaSalle Southwest Corrections to operate the facility, and LaSalle has cut a deal with Harris County to house 17-year-old inmates, the facility’s new warden, Charles Vondra, said Tuesday.

“We're doing everything we can do to get this place ready to open no later than the 15th of next month,” Vondra said.

"We're hiring right now. We already have 40 correctional officers not counting the warden, captains and administrative staff," Vondra said.

“We've had to fix a leaking roof, ventilation systems and it's surprising how far we've come in just a few weeks,” he said.

The center will house about 130 inmates when it reopens and the population should grow to 650, he said.

“When that happens, we'll hire a lot more people,” he said.

After working for three years to find a company to operate the facility, things came together quickly, Limestone County Judge Daniel Burkeen said Tuesday.

“It’s happened so fast. LaSalle has been amazing,” he said.

“This is something we've been hoping for a long time. It's going to be huge for the county, and the local economy again plus provide a number of new jobs."

Lauren Gist of Groesbeck, who worked at the center before it was closed down, has been hired by LaSalle.

“It sure is good to be back....I was hired in July and we are painting and fixing up the place,” she said.

After the center closed, she went back to school and was a stay-at-home-mom.

“Now it’s back to work,” she said Tuesday.

In July 2013 Management Training Corporation, which under an agreement with the county was supposed to have paid a minimum of $62,500 a month to rent the 1,100-bed facility, announced that it was closing the center and pulling out after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement decided to stop sending suspected illegal immigrants detained at the border to the center, opting instead to return them to their home countries.

Until May 31, 2013, the detention center was operated by Community Education Centers or CEC, which pulled out after losing its contract with the federal government to house inmates, but county officials had been hopeful that MTC could keep the facility filled.

The loss of 240 jobs was a financial blow to the county and the loss of the payments from MTC, which accounted for about 5 percent of the county’s annual budget, also cost the county millions in lost revenue over the past few years.

LaSalle also operates McLennan County’s Jack Harwell Detention Center, which handles not only federal prisoners, but also an overflow of inmates from the McLennan County Jail.