Haskell Representatives take on D.C. for Help with the RPDC

Haskell County and the Development Corporation of Haskell (DCOH) embarked on Washington D.C., August 17-19, 2016, in order to meet with federal officials who make decisions on placing federal detainees at the Rolling Plains Detention Center (RPDC). The facility is slated to close by end of year if additional detainees are not found to occupy the facility.

Haskell County Judge -David Davis, DCOH Executive Director - Jimi Coplen, Intergovernmental Relations Chair - Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr., DCOH Board of Directors & Haskell National Bank - Randy Hise
Haskell County Judge -David Davis, DCOH Executive Director – Jimi Coplen, Intergovernmental Relations Chair – Texas Senator, Eddie Lucio, Jr., DCOH Board of Directors & Haskell National Bank VP – Randy Hise

Haskell representatives David Davis, Jimi Coplen and Randy Hise traveled to Washington D.C. and met with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), US Senator Ted Cruz’s office,  US Senator John Cornyn’s office, and  the US House of Representatives Randy Neugebauer’s office.

The most important meeting was with ICE officials. That is the current detainee population held at the RPDC.  The hope is that ICE could fill their new facility at Alvarado and still have enough detainees to fill the RPDC. The three ICE officials that met with the group were attentive and positive.  Each of them had visited the Haskell facility in the past and was familiar with it. They assured the group the only reason for building a new facility was logistical and to have detainees closer to the federal court in Dallas.  They said the plan was to start moving detainees around December 1, 2016. The group also discussed with ICE the vast number of detainees crossing the Texas border, but then shipped to various places around the United States. ICE officials stated they have not had enough beds in Texas to house them here. Our group assured them there were beds in Texas and soon there would be more beds in Haskell. And, Haskell would like to be considered for additional populations. They agreed to send overflow to Haskell; however, this is not enough to fill the facility. Haskell will need more than 20-40 overflows in order to keep the facility open and thriving.

The group also met with HHS. This organization places unaccompanied minors who cross the border illegally into facilities across the United States. Those minors are housed at the expense of the United States until they can go before an immigration judge.  The average stay is around 35 days.  They are later placed with a foster family. This population is housed differently than a prisoner. They are detained, but it is more of a camp-like environment, large dorms, common areas, etc. The RPDC is not set up for this type of population. The current facility would have to be extremely retrofitted to accompany them. HHS was also attentive and very gracious to hear about the Haskell facility. In order to be considered by HHC, one must submit a grant proposal and it could take up to a year before a child is placed.  This is certainly not the ideal population for the RPDC due to the configuration, but it will be taken under considered.

Haskell representatives had hoped to meet with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) while in Washington D.C. Unfortunately, the Department of Justice announced on Thursday, August 18, 2016, that they would no longer be contracting with private facilities. This will be a hard hit on many Texas counties who currently house BOP prisoners. This decision does not affect ICE detainees as are in the Rolling Plains Detention Center because ICE is part of the Department of Homeland Security and not the Department of Justice.

Haskell representatives were not able to meet with the US Marshall Service, but did receive a phone call from them. Haskell resides in the Northern District. The acting Marshall who called was very helpful, but said they did not need any beds at this time. The group inquired about a recent article that stated the Odessa district was in need.  He told them to call that office directly to see if they would be interested in housing people in the Haskell facility.

Fortunately, Haskell was able to have congressional staff attend meetings with them. Before the group arrived, a joint letter was sent to HHS, ICE, BOP and the US Marshall Service from Texas Senator Charles Perry and Representatives James Frank and Drew Springer. This helped set the stage to get them in the door with Congressional representatives Ted Cruz, John Cornyn and Randy Neugebauer. Because it is August in Washington, only their staff was available. Haskell representatives were able to brief them on the situation, have them attend meetings with them, and they agreed to circle back with these offices in the future.

Randy Hise, Eddie Lucio, Jr, David Davis, Hannah Jaeckle (Neugebauer's office), Jimi Coplen
Randy Hise, Eddie Lucio, Jr, David Davis, Hannah Jaeckle (Neugebauer’s office), Jimi Coplen

The current RPDC jail management company, Emerald, is also actively seeking additional inmate populations for the RPDC. They are meeting with groups not associated with the federal government such as other states and various special interest groups who house prisoners. Haskell County is briefed weekly on their efforts. Emerald is  interested in staying in Haskell and running the RPDC facility as well as the new facility in Alvarado.

Haskell County and the DCOH hope this article clears up any confusion or rumors that have been floating around the community. They also want the citizens to know that no stone is being left unturned. They are working diligently on this project and will continue to do whatever it takes to keep the RPDC open. It’s a vital part of the community and will have a huge economic impact on every entity in Haskell and the general population if it were to close.