Willacy mulls dropping prison lawsuit

RAYMONDVILLE — Willacy County officials may change their minds.

The county leaders will consider dropping a lawsuit against a company now working to reopen the prison here.

Today, county commissioners will meet with their attorney to discuss dismissing a lawsuit against Management & Training Corp., the company that operated the Willacy County Correctional Center.

In December, the county filed a lawsuit against MTC, arguing its “abysmal mismanagement” led to the February 2015 inmate uprising that destroyed much of the 3,000-bed prison made up of tent-like domes.

Last week, county officials and MTC announced they were working with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement to reopen the facility as a detention center to hold undocumented immigrants.

That’s what the facility was originally built for in 2006.

“It’s a first step as a board to consult with our attorney and discuss what options we’ve got on the table,” County Judge Aurelio Guerra said yesterday. “We want the best turnout for the citizens and taxpayers of Willacy County.”

Guerra said officials do not have details regarding ICE’s plans or any possible economic impact.

The county filed the lawsuit against MTC, alleging overcrowding and plumbing problems created “deplorable” inmate living conditions.

The lawsuit states tensions led inmates to destroy much of the 3,000-bed prison.

Just weeks after the uprising, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, or BOP, which housed nearly 3,000 prisoners in the facility, terminated its contract with MTC.

The closure of the prison, which paid Willacy County for every inmate it housed, plunged the area into financial crisis, leading to 400 employee layoffs while slashing a third of the county’s $8.1 million general fund budget.

MTC denied the allegations, arguing it conducted “frequent comprehensive audits to make sure the facility was safe and clean and that it met all federal BOP standards.”

Last week, MTC announced it was working with the county after ICE expressed “interest” in the facility.

The lawsuit demands MTC pay the county unspecified damages.