The Ha$kell Agenda: Prison as Jobs Program

by Sarah Boone

Ever since Jay Johnson-Castro learned about the other-than-Mexican immigrants (OTMs) being detained at Rolling Plains Prison in Haskell, I’ve been trying to comprehend how the salt-of-the earth, God-fearing, family-centered people, who reside in this part of Texas allow the inhumane mistreatment of the ICE ‘prisoners,’ most of whom are seeking political asylum. I know this part of Texas well – prior to my husband’s death in 1999, I was ‘married to’ it for 38 years.
This week, in an online Abilene Christian University report entitled “Haskell County Economic View Book,” I realized my feminine intuition was correct. “It’s all about money.” The most revealing information in the report was ‘no information,’ as data regarding numbers of employees, salaries, etc., for the prison was ‘suppressed’ throughout.

Like many counties in Texas’ rolling plains, there has been a decline in population as family farms have disappeared and income is lower than the state average. When the study was produced in 2004, there were no higher education programs available in the county, and there was a smaller percentage of college degree-holders than the average Texas County, while there was a higher than average percentage of high school graduates.

The study states that ‘rural communities should carefully monitor declines and develop long-term strategies to retain population.’

Based on above data, is a privately run prison a good strategy for Haskell County since there has been a significant migration in the 24-45 age group to seek better employment (more money)?

Does the prison require a college degree for most positions? Graduation from high school?

In 2004 why did the County export more workers to surrounding counties than it imported – – would this information be correct if the suppressed’ data about the prison had been available?

Was the prison responsible for a 6% increase in employment in the county in 2003 and a 5.4% increase in 2004? If not, what was?

Why was information ‘suppressed’ regarding employers with more than 100 employees? What employers other than the prison would have had more than 100 employees? The City of Haskell? Haskell County? (Only a hospital was shown as having more than 100.)

With a 75% Anglo population (smaller families) and an increasing population of those 54 and older, there’s a predicted low growth rate – unless there are jobs to keep the younger residents at home.

Will prison jobs keep them there? Will prison jobs provide adequate income for the 20% of the county’s population living below the poverty level?

The following quote from the study provides some answers: “Haskell County economic growth is limited by its slow-growing population, but unincorporated in both the population and many of the economic figures, however, is the prison, which added jobs in 2002 and represents a major gain for the county.”

Thus one has to wonder if jobs and money have bought the silence of the Haskell County residents, who go to church on Sunday and pray for forgiveness for their sin of omission (or is it commission) for allowing immigrants, just like their forefathers, to be mistreated, abused, and treated inhumanely?

Sarah Boone is a retired banking executive from the Dallas area who now serves as innkeeper at the Villa Del Rio Bed and Breakfast.

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