If you've ever wanted to own a prison, now's your chance: The city of Littlefield is auctioning off the Bill Clayton Detention Center, abandoned by the GEO Group, a private prison operator with a troubled history in Texas.
The Florida-based GEO pulled out after the son of an inmate sued the company over the death of his father, who committed suicide in 2008 after spending more than a year in solitary confinement for allegedly assaulting a guard. The inmate was one of roughly 30 prisoners from Idaho, housed in Littlefield via a contract with the Idaho Department of Corrections. The department pulled its inmates, and the city lost "more than a hundred jobs, assumed a multimillion-dollar debt, and received a bad credit rating with a 'negative outlook' from Fitch Rating," according to watchdog group Grassroots Leadership.
The auction (both live and online) kicks off July 28 with an opening bid of $5 million -- that's only $13,055 per bed!
"But Hair Balls," you might ask, "what makes this prison so special compared to the dozens of others I can find on eBay?"
Glad you asked: For one thing, the facility includes a "freestanding gymnasium, maintenance shed, armory, and parking lot," according to the auction site. Plus, its five buildings are beautifully constructed of concrete block with a snazzy brick veneer.
"But Hair Balls," you might also ask, "are those buildings contained behind a strengthened perimeter of double fences with an electronic shaker detection system and eight video surveillance cameras?"
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Yes and yes!
A year before the Idaho Department of Corrections canceled its contract in Littlefield, it pulled its prisoners from a GEO-run facility in Dickens County after an inmate's suicide prompted an inspection by the department's health care director, who declared that the prison was the worst he'd ever seen. (It probably didn't have a freestanding gymnasium.)
GEO last year bought Houston-based Cornell Corrections Company, which operated a halfway house in northeast Houston where two residents absconded in the span of three weeks. One of those residents, Anthony Ferrell, would go on to be charged in the shooting death of a good Samaritan who tried to stop a gas station purse-snatching. (Alfred Moran, director of Houston's Department of Administration and Regulatory Affairs, was on Cornell's board of directors at the time.)
Although it's a prison, the Bill Clayton Detention Center could probably be turned into anything the auction winner chooses, like an escape-proof daycare, or a Sonic. In fact, we might even bid on it and use it as a summer cottage. Better get ready if you want to beat us out!