Only a month away from housing their first prisoners, officials with the LCS Coastal Bend Detention Center near Robstown are reaching out to the community to address concerns raised by local residents.
Arthur Crews Sr., the warden of the new facility, held a public hearing last week at First United Methodist Church in Robstown, and has been touring local clubs and organizations in an effort to answer questions from the community.
Construction began on the new facility in January 2007, and plans eventually call for three identical units at the site that can house more than 300 prisoners each. Those inmates will be federal prisoners, classified from medium security to maximum security, who will spend between one and three months at the location, Crews said.
LCS Detention Services, Inc. currently has seven other facilities located in Louisiana, Alabama and Texas, including a facility in nearby Brooks County.
Next month the facility will open its first unit, with an estimated prisoner population of 250.
Crews said the first questions he received about the facility were about security.
"Any time you're new to an area, especially when they don't know what detention centers are all about, people have an uncertainty," Crews said. "Our door is wide open, and we invite people to come in to talk to us."
The facility is constructed with concrete blocks reinforced with rebar, Crews said, surrounded by multiple fences, including a stun fence. The entire facility is also monitored with a state of the art surveillance system.
Community members also expressed concerns about what steps would be taken in the event of an escape, especially for those residents in extreme rural areas who might not have telephones.
After a series of meetings with local residents, the company agreed to install a warning siren that would sound, should there be an escape.
J.C. Crick, the superintendent of construction for the facility, said that siren would be used in connection with a phone warning system and more personal service.
"It's not a bad idea, in case someone doesn't have a phone," Crick said. "If there's someone that we're aware of who lives around here who we don't reach by phone, we will send someone out to their home."
In addition to those measures, the facility will house a sub-station for the Nueces County Sheriff's Department, meaning law enforcement personnel will be on site at all times.
Crick said another instance in which concerns from local residents led to action by the company was an issue regarding water flow in a nearby creek. The facility has a permit to discharge clarified wastewater into a nearby creek bed, and Crick said some local residents raised concerns about possible flooding from the increased volume of water.
After discussing those concerns, the company initiated a clean up of the creek bed, eventually clearing large areas of debris that had caused natural dams for many years.
"It really was a valid concern, although the amount of water we were going to put in there was not going to change things one way or the other," Crick said. "We wound up going down there and cleaning the creek for them."
Those discussions concerning the creek, and others like them, have allowed the officials with the company to meet the community and to form bonds with local residents, Crick said.
"We met some really neat people, and we got to know them real well," Crick said. "We know most of the people around us by their first names, and they know us by our first names. They can feel comfortable to pick the phone up and call us if they have a concern."
In addition to continuing efforts to meet with local clubs and organizations, Crews said the facility will hold an open house event in November, with continuing weekly tours. He also hopes to form a community advisory board in the future, which would be made up of members of the public and facility management.
"We're trying to let everybody know and understand more about what we're doing and how we're doing it," Crews said. "We're trying to be reasonable and to let everybody know where we're at."