Taxpayers held prisoner by their own prisons - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

Taxpayers held prisoner by their own prisons

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) -

By Tiffany Pelt - email

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) – While the Lubbock County Detention Center is filling up with inmates, other counties are struggling to find an inmate. Taxpayers of those counties are now being held prisoners by their own prisons as they're forced to pay the price of empty facilities.

About an hour from Lubbock, the Bill Clayton Detention Center in Littlefield hasn't had a single inmate in the last two years.  "This was not built to house local inmates; it was built to house inmates from other parts of the state or other parts of U.S. It was built to bring economic development to the city of Littlefield," said Danny Davis, Littlefield city manager.

For a while it did bring money into Littlefield, until the State of Idaho decided to remove its inmates from the center when the economy tanked back in 2009. "Everybody was cutting back it seemed, and it was very difficult to find other inmates from out of state to come in and fill the facility," said Davis.

Nearly 100 people lost their job in the area, and with $9 million left to pay for the now empty building, residents are stuck paying the price through increased taxes and fees."Jokingly I've told people when I took this job I weighed a lot more and had a lot more hair, so that's how I guess you can say how the frustration level is. It has been a frustrating situation for the whole community," said Davis.

About two hours away Dickens County faces a similar fate. Their contractor CEC didn't renew their contract with the Dickens County Correctional Center. In mid-December the remaining inmates were moved to Lubbock County's new facility, and nearly 120 jobs were lost - huge hit to the small communities of Dickens County.

"It cost money to put people in jail. The state of the economy, the governments don't have as much money. Our own state is cutting the budget, and there's one way to save money…that's not to incarcerate them, and so that's why I believe our inmate population is down," said Lesa Arnold, Dickens County Judge.

So far Dickens County hasn't had to increase taxes to foot the prison's one million dollar bill each year, but that option might soon surface. "We need to get this thing going within a year, and hopefully a whole lot sooner than that before that issue comes up as to who's going to make those bond payments," said Arnold.

So how can Lubbock County fill its newly built facility while these two and others around the U.S. are failing? It comes down to why these facilities were built in the first place.

Littlefield and Dickens County didn't have an inmate population for the large prisons they built; instead they were built to make a profit for the towns by contracting out the prison cells to other parts of the state and U.S.

Lubbock on the other hand, needed the bigger facility. All 1,063 inmates currently in the Lubbock County Detention Center are from Lubbock County, which means their cells will constantly be filled with a local inmate population.

The other facilities are staying hopeful a new inmate population will come their way. "I can't worry about why we have it because that's in the past. I can only worry about what can we do with it now that we have it, and that's what we work on every day," said Davis.

Copyright 2011 KCBD. All rights reserved.

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