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Jones County Commissioners Consider ICE Contract To Use Empty Prison

Heather Claborn
Texas Midwest/Jones County "Bluebonnet" Detention Facility

Jones County Commissioners are considering an offer from ICE to put immigrant detainees in cells. 

Right now the Texas/Midwest Jones County “Bluebonnet” Detention Facility has a thick layer of dust on the brand new desks, chairs and structures added to cells a decade ago.  

Locals express strong feelings of frustration that the state never followed through with a contract to use the low-security facility as intended, to house drug offenders.  Herb Bristow, an attorney representing Jones County says the investors who bought revenue bonds used to pay for the prison-have waited years to see the return on their investment.

“It’s only payable out of revenue if there’s revenue,” Bristow said after Monday’s meeting.  “The only way you have revenue in detention facility projects like this is to have detainees, and folks payin’ for it.  So this is an opportunity to take care of that revenue bond obligation.”

Credit Heather Claborn / KACU
Herb Bristow, attorney with Haley & Olson, represents Jones County in the contract negotiation with ICE.

And then it will start making money for the county.  

Under the terms of the agreement, ICE would pay a per diem for each detainee…a minimum of 750 men to a maximum of one-thousand.  No women or children would be held at the prison.

Proponents of moving ahead with the agreement say it will also offer good jobs.  The average wage in Jones County hovers under $750 per week. This agreement would pay prison staff more than $1,000 per week-including benefits.

Richard Strait, pastor of Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church near Stamford, spoke against the contract during the public comment portion of the meeting.  He didn’t expect to change their minds, but ask them to consider not only the economic and political aspects of their decision-but the moral side as well.  “When we monetize and gain profit from incarcerating the most vulnerable and needy individuals, in some respects that’s kind of a classic definition of sin.” 

Jones County Commissioners are still waiting on a final draft of the proposal.  They plan to vote on the contract at next week’s meeting.  If approved, officials say it will take 90 days before ICE can start moving detainees to the facility-which would likely be the end of November. 

Credit Heather Claborn / KACU
Jones County Commissioners discuss aspects of the proposed contract with ICE.