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Texas Democrat Politicians Keep Private Prison Consulting in the Family

by Matt Clarke

In 2003 and 2004, Texas state Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D) was a consultant for Management & Training Corporation, a private prison firm, and Corplan Corrections, a prison design and development company. Now his son, state Rep. Eddie Lucio III, (D) has signed on to be a Corplan consultant.

Corplan’s CEO, James Parkey, typically sells desperate towns on high-risk government-financed prisons, promising them jobs and economic growth. Corplan builds the prisons with local government financing, such as project revenue bonds, but leaves after the construction is complete. How to fill the prisons is up to local officials.

“James Parkey and Corplan are prison developers who get paid when a prison is built,” said Bob Libal, a Grassroots Leadership anti-private prison organizer in Texas. “It’s not necessarily in their interest to make sure the prison project is successful.”

Past Corplan projects include a scheme to build a prison in Hardin, Montana that cost $27 million to construct but has sat vacant for years because the city has been unable to find prisoners to fill it. [See: PLN, Dec. 2009, pp.1, 8].

Corplan, based in Argyle, Texas, was also part of a group of companies trying to build a 2,000-bed immigration detention facility in Willacy County, Texas in 2003 and 2004, with Senator Lucio representing the companies. Lucio suspended his consulting work in 2005 after two Willacy County commissioners and a commissioner from another county who represented Corplan were charged with bribery in connection with the prison project. Corplan was not charged in the bribery scandal. [See: PLN, Nov. 2005, p.20].

Parkey’s most recent grand scheme was to try to convince local governments in Benson, Arizona; Las Cruces, New Mexico; and Weslaco, Texas to build new detention facilities specifically designed to hold immigrant families. Las Cruces and Benson have already shot down the deal, but Parkey’s hopes remain alive in Weslaco, where he hired Rep. Lucio as the attorney for the project.

Weslaco Mayor Buddy de la Rosa said he was introduced to Parkey two years ago and the detention facility proposal has been in the works since that time, with Corplan handling all the details. As late as February 2010, Parkey and Rep. Lucio spoke to the Weslaco city commissioners, urging them to pass a resolution authorizing Corplan to file a grant application for the prison.

However, this is not a good time to be building detention centers for immigrant families. Inhumane conditions at privately-operated family detention facilities, such as CCA’s T. Don Hutto Residential Center near Taylor, Texas, attracted international attention and resulted in the Obama administration announcing in August 2009 that immigrant families would be removed from Hutto. [See: PLN, Dec. 2009, p.26].

“To my knowledge, and I spoke specifically with Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] about this, they insist they don’t have any requests for proposals out there or any plans for building a new family detention facility,” said Michelle Brane, director of detention and asylum programs for the Women’s Refugee Commission. “I think they’re being duped, frankly,” she said of the cities being courted by Corplan to construct immigrant family detention centers.

Frank Smith, field organizer for the Private Corrections Institute, which opposes private prisons, confirmed that neither ICE nor the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services were seeking to fund such facilities.

Mayor de la Rosa said he wasn’t aware of the shift in federal policy, but remarked that could explain why he hadn’t heard from Lucio or Parkey for a while. “They’ve been remarkably quiet for the past several weeks,” he noted.

In May 2010, Parkey pitched a 500-bed immigration detention facility to the city council in Italy, Texas, claiming the prison would provide about 150 jobs. Whether the City of Italy becomes Corplan’s latest mark for speculative prison building remains to be seen; regardless, it most likely will not be the last.

Sources: Texas Observer,,

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