WilCo Commissioners Court vote to terminate detention center agreement

Image 1 of 2

A large group gathered outside of the Williamson County courthouse Tuesday morning before the commissioners court meeting.

It was more of a pre-celebration rally than a protest; anticipation of a vote regarding the T. Don Hutto Immigration Detention Center. Activists like Claudia Munoz have spent years trying to shut it down.

“We know that about 40 women who were separated from their children at the border recently are now being held at Hutto, and I think as we learn more and more about everything that happens at Hutto, from sexual abuse to mothers been separated, community members don’t want to see this prison existing in Taylor anymore,” said Munoz who is with a group called Grassroots Leadership.

County commissioners on a 4-1 vote are ending an agreement with the federal government regarding the detention center. The decision takes affect at the end of January. Most at the meeting praised the outcome of the vote.

“You can’t stop what’s going on at the border, believe me we’re going to make every effort to do so, but what you have done in your authority today we thank you,” said Rev. Chuck Freeman of Free Souls Church.

The vote was also condemned.

“The law needs to be enforced. Period. one, that means people who come here illegally and have committed a crime need to be punished accordingly, that’s why the facility is there,” said Georgetown resident Rick Makowski. 

The T. Don Hutto Detention Center is located in Taylor and was originally a private prison run by Corrections Corporation of America, which recently changed its name to Core Civic. Several years ago Williamson County signed an agreement to use the site to ease jail overcrowding. But when the need to hold inmates diminished the site became a federal immigration detention center. It also quickly became the target for protests by immigration reform advocates.

The existing agreement Williamson County has with CoreCivic allows federal authorities to streamline payments to the company through the county. It is important but the vote ending the agreement actually doesn't shut the facility down.

“This does not solve the larger immigration issue but it does allow us in the county to go back and perform core county functions,” said Commissioner Terry Cook.

A county spokesperson tells FOX7 Austin that Williamson County receives an administrative fee of $1/day per detainee. The amount equals to about $183,000 per year.

In addressing those packed into the meeting room, Commissioner Cook, who voted for the motion, had a warning. If the site closes, those inside will probably be transferred to another location. If it stays open, a safety net will be lost without the agreement.

“Williamson County Sheriff's Department will no longer have the ability to go on site anytime for any length of time and anywhere in that facility to observe,” said Cook.

Federal authorities may be able to keep the detention center open by directly paying for the service.
Or, a new pay through agreement may be negotiated with another local governmental body, possibly the City of Taylor.