A photo from a security post inside an MTC-operated ICE detention facility in Southern California. An MTC official pointed to the California facility, which can hold approximately 750 detainees, as an example of what Uinta County could expect. Wyoming officials have said such a facility wouldn't be considered a "prison" under Wyoming law. (David Schacher/David Schacher Photography, LLC)

Gov. Matt Mead’s spokesman said a federal immigration jail proposed for Uinta County does not count as a private prison under Wyoming statute and doesn’t require the Governor’s approval to be constructed.

The jail is proposed by a private-prison company, Management Training Corporation, to hold increasing numbers of people arrested by U.S.  Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. As of October, county officials said they remained uncertain whether the proposal would require the approval of Wyoming’s five state elected officials, as state law requires for private prison contracts with local governments. A spokesperson for Mead told WyoFile at the time that the governor was unaware of the proposal.

However, “unlike a prison, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility does not require the Governor’s approval,” the spokesman wrote in an email to WyoFile last week. The governor’s staff consulted the Wyoming attorney general to reach that answer, Communications Director David Bush said. County officials and representatives of the company, MTC, never sought Mead’s approval, he said.

Local governments are allowed, according to statute, to write contracts with private prison companies. Before that can happen, however, local governments must receive the consent of the state’s five statewide elected officials. Today, that means Gov. Matt Mead, State Treasurer Mark Gordon, State Auditor Cynthia Cloud, Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow and Secretary of State Ed Murray.  

Mead’s spokesman Bush did not provide further detail on how the decision was reached. Peter Michael, the Wyoming Attorney General, wrote to WyoFile that “it has been some time since I have been briefed or have reviewed this issue, so I am not in a position to comment.”

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Uinta County officials recently held a conference call with representatives of Management Training Center and a financing company, Municipal Capital Markets Group, of Denver, Colorado according to a report in the Uinta County Herald. During the call, MTC representative Mike Murphy suggested company representatives and county officials should make overtures to Mead, even as those on the call continued to debate if the project fell under private-prison statutes. “It would be helpful if we can get the governor’s blessing,” said Murphy, according to the report. “The governor sets the pace.”

When it comes to Wyoming’s own prisoners, Mead has expressed reluctance to pursue for-profit prisons, despite companies proposing solutions to ongoing challenges with the state’s  correctional facilities. Such companies might not be open to rehabilitation or reeducation programs Wyoming residents might want for the state’s inmates, he told reporters during a press conference in July.

A prison is a prison is a prison?

MTC representative Murphy has said the immigration jail would look similar to an MTC-operated ICE jail in Southern California. That jail, just north of the border with Mexico, appears from photos on Google Maps to be a large squat building — similar in appearance to a public high school or community college — surrounded by security cameras and high chain-link fences topped with coiled barbed wire.

A photo of a cell inside an MTC-operated ICE detention facility in Southern California. MTC vice president for corrections marketing Mike Murphy pointed to the California facility as an example of what Uinta County could expect. (David Schacher/David Schacher Photography, LLC)

Today, many immigrants arrested by ICE in Wyoming are sent to an immigration jail operated by a different for-profit company, GEO, in Aurora, Colorado outside Denver. WyoFile visited that jail for a story on how ICE activity has left some Casper mothers to support families alone.

The GEO jail also looks like a community college, but one surrounded by chain-link fences. When family and friends go to visit the civil detainees inside, they are separated from them by a glass partition and speak through a telephone. The detainees wear orange jumpsuits.

Detainees in the Evanston jail would be guarded by officers paid commensurate to what the Wyoming Department of Corrections pays its correctional officers, Murphy, the MTC representative, said in October. Detainees will have access to education and vocational programs similar to those offered in Wyoming’s prisons. Local law enforcement has been assured security will be tight at the facility to prevent escapes, according to a report in the Uinta County Herald.

Grassroots opposition?

For now, the next move for the proposed Evanston jail would probably be by the federal government. MTC sent its proposal in response to an official Request for Information from the Department of Homeland Security, which was seeking new immigration jails around the country. Murphy told Uinta County officials he believed their proposal was the strongest for the Salt Lake City area, according to the Uinta County Herald report.

Antonio Serrano is the director of Juntos Wyoming, a Cheyenne-based immigration activist group. He wants to stop the private immigration jail proposed in Uinta County. (Andrew Graham/WyoFile)

However, the federal government’s contracting process is not fast. DHS will next send out a Request for Proposals.

Meanwhile, immigration and civil rights activists in Wyoming are gearing up for a fight. In an editorial in the Casper Star-Tribune earlier this month, ACLU of Wyoming director Sabrina King and Antonio Serrano, the director of a Cheyenne-based immigration group called Juntos Wyoming, denounced the proposal. A campaign called #WyoSayNo! is set to launch in January, according to its website.

Serrano hopes the campaigners can convince state residents that just as they may oppose a private prison for their own, so too would they oppose one being built to house the state’s undocumented immigrants, he said.

“It seems like people forget how intertwined immigrants are to our community, especially rural, agricultural communities,” he said. “They’re part of Wyoming.”

“The big goal is to shut her down,” he said of the proposed jail.

Andrew Graham is reporting for WyoFile from Laramie. He covers state government, energy and the economy. Reach him at 443-848-8756 or at andrew@wyofile.com, follow him @AndrewGraham88

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  1. Everyone is against undocumented immigrants in their rhetoric, but I notice no one complains when we have the cheapest produce/meat prices at your local supermarkets.

    No one in this country, save those immigrants, understands how food gets on their plate anymore. Let me assure you, a very large percentage of the “savings” you enjoy at the supermarket is bore on the back of these immigrants documented and especially undocumented.

    When I hear people lament the immigrant situation, all I hear is people who don’t understand how it works at all. They simply repeat lines fed to them by wealthy opportunists on the TV who don’t understand the first thing about work, workers, or Wyoming.

    This is modern America. Willing to pay less. Willing to let someone die for this country. Willing to let someone come here and work for less, with less safety and assurance, and harder than they ever would. Yet, Unwilling to take a stand on basic human rights and decency, calling it any number of bad names and political pandered slurs and derogatory references.


  2. It’s worse than a prison because the people locked up have not been accused of a crime, merely suspected of being in the country without proper papers. So they are denied due process, sometimes do not have access to attorneys or families, and are held in criminally poor conditions with poor food and poor access to medical care. Running any kind of prison for profit is unacceptable, but here we have people selected because of ethnic profiling. It is a disgrace that Wyoming would even consider aiding and abetting such an unconstitutional endeavor and participate in the destruction of families and disregard for the welfare of children. Governor Mead, do your job and oppose this terrible plan.

  3. If you aren’t a citizen of our country, you cannot come and go as you please. Our borders and laws need to be respected and complied with. Our laws need to be enforced if they are to have meaning. Sneaking into the US doesn’t make you an immigrant any more than breaking into my house makes you a member of my family. These facilities are designed to provide a safe environment for detainees and the employees that work there. They are not intended to house prisoners long term.

    1. Mr. Gilbert, I find it odd that people get passionate about law and order when it comes to immigrants, many of whom are guilty of a civil offense only, not a crime. Yet often the same people are fine with overlooking speeding, marijuana use, perhaps even driving after drinking. Many people are also fine if police officers are not held accountable for excessive use of force. And others see no problem with things like violations of the emoluments clause, possible collusion with a foreign government to win an election, and misuse of federal funds for private travel and soundproofing offices, on the federal level. If you are as concerned about all laws as you are with immigration laws, I have no problem with that. There are many who are relaxed about many laws except those affecting immigrants, and that boils down to an excuse to discriminate against a small group of people. As far as providing safety and care for inmates, we have seen over and over that private prisons pursue profit rather than the basic needs of the people locked within. That should not be allowed anywhere in America.

  4. Conditions were better in the Internment Camps of the 1940’s and they weren’t called ‘prisons’ either. Facts are that if you can/t voluntarily come and go as you please then it’s imprisonment.

    1. Really Eugene? You think conditions were better in a WWII internment camp? Snowflake much?….. Come on bro…

  5. Yes, it’s IS prison to hold people who have not committed a criminal act. The State can use any euphemism it likes, but that doesn’t change reality.

    1. Can we say, “Internment Camp?” This administration is anti anyone not white and they’re trying to employ gestapo-like techniques to terrorize and imprison people who in most cases have done nothing to deserve this. Okay, they’re undocumented. Is this really the way we want to treat them? And it seems that a few months back I read somewhere that Sessions is a big investor in these prisons-for-profit.