Public Outcry Erupts Over Rumors Of Refugee Youth Detention Coming To Crockett
By Lynda Jones, Editor-in-Chief
What Crockett Mayor Robert Meadows described as a "firestorm" erupted in Houston County Friday, July 11, as rumors spread that Cornerstone Programs was planning to contract with the federal government to temporarily house underage refugees from Latin America at the new Davy Crockett Regional Juvenile Facility (DCRJF).
As the rumors and misinformation spread, public outcry increased, with many people getting downright ugly about the matter, according to elected officials who received phone calls from citizens.
When the Crockett City Council convened its regular meeting Monday night, July 14, Meadows said the item was not on the agenda, but he felt it was important to extingish the "firestorm" as quickly as possible. He then allowed Cornerstone Programs President Joe Newman to address the council and members in the council chambers.
Newman reiterated what he told the Houston County Courier on Friday, that Cornerstone has never intended to use the DCRJF as a detention center for youthful refugees.
Earlier in the day, Houston County Judge Erin Ford called together key stakeholders to discuss the issue.
Among those reported present at the meeting were Ford, Newman, Crockett Mayor Robert Meadows, President of the Crockett Economic and Industrial Development Corp. Board of Directors (CEIDC) Chris von Doenhoff, CEIDC Executive Director Thom Lambert, Houston County Sheriff Darrel Bobbitt, HCSO Chief Deputy G. P. Shearer and others. Most also were present at Monday's City Council meeting.
As Newman addressed the city council, he said that representatives from the Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) had visited the DCRJF the first of July to see what changes had been made since they visited shortly after the Crockett State School closed and if it would be an appropriate setting for the refugees flooding the Texas-Mexico border.
Newman reported that a major problem for ICE is the secure fencing and all the locks at the facility. In addition to two locked doors at the sallyport, all buildings and the detained youths' rooms are locked, he said.
The DCRJF is designed for detaining youth between the ages of 11 and 17 (mostly 15 to 17) who have been arrested for criminal offenses and are awaiting trial.
Removing locks is not an option, Newman said. At no time will any gates at DCRJF be unlocked or unmanned, he stressed.
Newman further reported that the officials present at the stakeholders' meeting unanimously agreed that the DCRJF will not be used as a detention facility for the refugee youth coming into Texas.
He declared Cornerstone Programs will not be applying for any federal or state grants to temporarily house any of the refugees.
Meadows said, "There's been some vicious things said. We've got to stop that now." He noted that people with misinformation "have gotten really ugly about this".
Newman also reported there currently are nine youth being detained at DCJRF, and that the goal is to have 80. Cornerstone Programs and elected officials still are attempting to get the blessing of State Sen. John Whitmire and his criminal justice committee to house adjudicated youth from the Texas Juvenile Justice Dept. The current youth are from counties that contract with Cornerstone for DCRJF beds. DCRJF opened in April.