Archive: Rolling Plains Prison Promises Jobs that Can't be Taken Away'

Two stories from 1998 capture the spirit of prison boosters making plans for the Rolling Plains Prison project–gm

Abilene Reporter News
Tuesday, June 9, 1998

Jail to be built at Haskell

By DUSTY GARISON
and ROY A. JONES II
Staff Writers

HASKELL – A regional jail to house 200 prisoners will be built here, the first of its kind in the state, elated Haskell city and county officials announced Monday.
And the project, which will create 55 to 60 jobs, could get even bigger if other area counties vote to join in the plans for the Rolling Plains Regional County Jail and related facilities.

No tax dollars will be used for constructing the not-for-profit regional jail, which will be owned and operated under the joint auspices and authority of Haskell County and the city of Haskell, officials said.

Daily operations and administration will be handled by a professional prison management company to be named later.

Haskell officials hadn’t even had time to announce their plans for a 100-bed facility to the public before Jones County commissioners voted to lend their support.

When the Jones commissioners voted to contract for three years to house their prisoners in the regional jail, Haskell officials promptly doubled the size of the planned facility to 200 beds.

Jones County has been plagued by jail overcrowding problems for months and has been paying both Taylor and Fisher counties for holding about 20 Jones County prisoners.

Haskell County Judge David Davis said different groups have tried to develop regional jails for Texas counties since 1979, but this will be the first time counties have come together to house inmates in a shared facility.

Cooperation was the key to landing the project, which could eventually include a youth detention facility and a privately run prison, creating up to 400 new jobs, he said.

It started with an unprecedented show of cooperation from the Haskell City Council, the Haskell County Commissioners Court and the Development Corporation of Haskell, he said.

Three months after the leaders of those groups formed the Rolling Plains Regional Corporation to seek to build some type of detention facility, the representatives voted unanimously Monday to participate in a regional county jail.

The vote followed a presentation by James Parkey of Corplan, the firm serving as project developer and consultant. Parkey later explained the plans to the Jones County commissioners.

Parkey stressed the facility will not be a private jail but will be owned and operated under the joint auspices of the city and county. The project has the full endorsement and approval of Haskell County Sheriff Johnny Mills, Davis said.

Parkey said financing for the project will come from private investors with no tax dollars used in the construction. Funds will come from private “certificates of participation,” financial notes generally purchased by Wall Street investment firms.

Davis said he is proud to be part of the unique partnership and thankful for the cooperative efforts of all concerned.

“I’ve been keeping up with activities of local governments for over 25 years, and I’ve never seen this kind of cooperative spirit,” he said. “Different governments might work together temporarily during a natural disaster, but for everyone to come together to support this kind of endeavor is a tremendous boost for this area.

“We appreciate the confidence of our constituents in their support of this facility,” the judge added. “We also are proud and gratified our neighboring counties are willing to come on board with us.”

The Jones County participation came on a split vote – along the same lines that has characterized the court’s stance on jail overcrowding, support for Sheriff Robbie Wedeking and moving of the 911 dispatch office from the jail to the courthouse basement.

Commissioner Buz Wylie made the motion to contract with the Rolling Plains Regional Jail for three years. Steve Lollar seconded the motion. Commissioners James Clawson and Mike Polk both voted against the contract, and County Judge Brad Rowland broke the tie by voting for the deal.

Haskell Mayor Ken Lane said while jails and prisons may not be “the most desirable kind of industry,” the local ownership and control will have several advantages for Haskell and the surrounding area.

“It will be ours,” he said. “This will be something that won’t be moved or taken away from us. It’s not like some industry where the stroke of a pen on Wall Street would mean the loss of local jobs. These are jobs that we’re creating for our own people.”

Monty Montgomery, executive director of the Development Corporation of Haskell, was also thrilled with the affirmative votes.

“A 200-bed facility means 55 to 60 jobs. By the time that payroll turns over several times, the economic impact throughout this entire area will be tremendous.”

So when will construction begin?

Montgomery said that will be determined after Corplan officials, along with representatives of the Development Corporation and others, will meet with officials from at least six other area counties in hopes they will also participate in the state’s first regional jail.

“We want to get through with these meetings as soon as possible so we can move on to the next phase,” which would be selecting a site and a contractor, he said.

The corporation already has two or three sites in mind, he indicated. At least one is on land owned by the city near the airport, according to discussions when Montgomery first proposed the idea to several counties in May 1997.

At that time, Bob Dearing, deputy director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards in Austin, said any community building a regional jail “would make our day.”

“It’d be the greatest thing that ever happened,” he said, pointing to the overcrowded state prison system.

Of the fledgling Haskell effort he said, “If these guys do it, they will be pioneers.”

Roy Jones can be reached at 676-6728 or (800) 588-6397 or jonesr@abinews.com

*******************

Wednesday, March 4, 1998

Haskell forms corporation to build jail, prison

By ROY A. JONES II / Abilene Reporter-News

HASKELL — In a special joint meeting Monday, the Haskell City Council, the Haskell County Commissioners Court and the Development Corporation of Haskell agreed to form a special not-for-profit corporation to build a detention facility that could mean up to 400 new jobs.

The main purpose of the “Rolling Plains Regional Corporation” will be to develop and build a regional county jail, a youth detention facility and a privately run prison.

Haskell Mayor Ken Lane said the corporation could seek to build any or all of the project. If all three are built, it could mean nearly 400 jobs for Haskell and the area, he said.

Officials hope to have the paperwork finished and a prison contractor in place by April 1. Construction would cause no tax liability for the county’s residents, they said.

Lane pointed out that while jails or prisons may not be “the most desirable kind of industry,” the local ownership and control will have several advantages for Haskell and the surrounding area.

“It will be ours,” the mayor said. “This will be something that won’t be moved or taken away from us. It’s not like some industry where the stroke of a pen on Wall Street would mean the loss of local jobs. These are jobs that we’re creating for our own people.”

Haskell County Judge David Davis said he was thrilled with the unprecedented level of cooperation between the county and city.

“We’ve worked together on roads and things like that, but to have this level
of cooperation on a project of this size is nearly unheard of anywhere in the area,” he said.

Monty Montgomery, executive director of the Development Corporation of Haskell, echoed the comments.

“It is my understanding that the city and the county have not always had the opportunity to work together in the past to bring jobs to this region,” he said. “That’s changing. As goes the city, so goes the county and vice versa.

“We’re very excited about the prospects this corporation will offer.”

Davis noted the facilities will be built without incurring any taxpayer liability.

“The company that we’re talking to assures us that once these projects are completed and paid for they’ll be owned by the corporation, and no taxpayer money will be needed to operate,” Davis said. “That’s one of the things I think is so great about this situation.”

A steering committee comprising members of both city and county government is being organized to draft bylaws for the new corporation.

Davis stressed the need for all parts of the county to continue to work together.

“It’s going to have to be a Haskell County project with all the parts of the county working together,” he said. “We don’t need any dissention about this. These projects are too important.

“Things are going along pretty well for Haskell County right now, as far as I can see, and we have to continue working together for the next five, 10 or 20 years.”

(Correspondent Dusty Garison contributed to this report.)

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