UPDATE: A plan to bring prison parolees to a downtown Longview ministry for transitional housing and treatment are off the table, organizers said Tuesday afternoon.
House of Disciples was part of an application to the state to house 70 male and female Department of Criminal Justice parolees at its ministry at 210 S. Green Street, but directors for the ministry and private contractor Management and Training Corp. — the proposed operator of the program — both say that the application has been withdrawn.
PREVIOUS STORY: A private corrections contractor wants to house prison parolees at a downtown Longview ministry under a transitional treatment program.
City and county officials already are voicing concerns about the proposed location across the street from a day care center, saying that the contractor hasn’t been fully transparent about the proposal and that they should have been told sooner about the plans.
Management and Training Corp. of Utah is awaiting approval of a contract with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to house 50 male and 20 female state prison parolees at the House of Disciples facility on South Green Street in downtown.
That site is across the street from First Baptist Church and its Wee Learn Center, which educates several hundred children from infancy to age 6.
“Our job is to make sure this community is safe,” Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt said, adding that the proposal “doesn’t make me feel warm and fuzzy.”
The residential and outpatient substance abuse treatment facility — designed for parolees transitioning to post-prison life — could open as early as Sept. 1, said Michael Bell, Management and Training Corp. vice president of Region 3 Corrections.
“This is not a halfway house. This is a transitional treatment center,” Bell said.
He said transitional treatment lasts 60 days in which staff works with parolees who already had been through at least six months of treatment in prison before entering transitional housing. At the time of a parolee’s release, the parole board would determine whether the parolee needs transition before his or her full release from prison.
“So they just come here as a transition, but it’s not long term, whereas a halfway house could be a lot longer,” Bell said.
The Department of Criminal Justice has notified Management and Training Corp. to move forward and get public comment, Bell said. That will occur at a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Monday at House of Disciples, which is at the former Welch Funeral Home building at 210 S. Green St.
Once public comment is gathered next week, “the Department of Criminal Justice will make a final decision,” Bell said.
Longview Mayor Andy Mack, City Manager Keith Bonds, Gregg County Sheriff Maxey Cerliano and Stoudt all said they didn’t know about the plan or the potential contract until they received certified letters from Bell about three weeks ago.
“They’re going to make a decision sometime in June or July, and we’ve only known about it since May, and you know they were working on it in 2018,” Stoudt said. “Why weren’t we notified early in the process so that we could start asking questions and voicing concerns?”
Bonds said he didn’t know about the proposal until Bell notified Longview Police Chief Mike Bishop, he said. Bonds said he believes the city should have been given more information than what was in the letter.
When asked whether Management and Training Corp. or the House of Disciples would have to obtain any permits to open a transitional housing program in the city, Bonds replied, “I don’t have enough information about what their specific plans are to answer this question. I would assume there could be some permits required.”
Seventy parolees “seems like a lot of people to me,” the mayor said. A lot of questions need to be asked, he said, but all he has seen about the proposal is from the letters sent to the city.
“I think there are definitely a lot of public concerns about this, and rightly so,” Mack said. “I don’t have any more knowledge than anybody else about this at this point in time.”
Neither the pastor nor associate pastor for First Baptist Church were available for comment Monday.
Tim Wiseman, executive director for Wiseman Industries, which includes the House of Disciples, said parolees in the program would have the same restrictions as ex-offenders and other participants of similar treatment programs that have been at the ministry for several years.
In a letter he wrote to local officials, Wiseman said, “We are currently a TDCJ-approved alternative housing facility. This partnership would staff the facilities with MTC-managed staff. They have stated that would be about 30 staff. MTC will facilitate all services provided on campus for their residents as the contractor.”
Wiseman Ministries has volunteered with Management and Training Corp. for more than a decade. During that time, directors of both organizations have had discussions “on ways we could help with the shortage of transitional housing available for parolees,” according to Wiseman’s letter to Cerliano.
Management and Training Corp. operates private prisons, jails and transitional programs across the state, including Bradshaw State Jail, Billy Moore Correctional Facility and the East Texas Treatment Facility, all in Rusk County.
The company previously held a contract to house up to 300 state jail inmates inside the Gregg County Jail, but the county discontinued the contract several years ago to expand its number of available beds.
As Stoudt put it, “This isn’t apples to apples.”
Bell said, “Our company manages 19 of these treatment facilities, so we’re already working with this clientele throughout the state of Texas, so as they transition at this particular facility, we’ll continue the treatment model and then help them transition back to their community.”
The ministry and Management and Training Corp. notified local governments and elected leaders about the plan nearly a month ago, but Stoudt and Cerliano said they should’ve been told sooner.
“We know that they run a good facility housing inmates, and we know that they have a reputation of providing education and counseling and training to inmates,” the sheriff said, “but this situation is different, because they’re not in a lockdown environment.
“So I don’t know exactly how it’s going to work, but that building doesn’t have bars and a fence around it, so they’re going to have the ability to come and go,” Cerliano said.
The program would bring about 30 jobs to Longview, Bell said. As the contractor, Management and Training Corp. will facilitate all services provided on campus for their residents.
“This facility by design is geared for the East Texas area — individuals that are actually in the Department of Criminal Justice going through a treatment service (and) fixing to go out,” Bell said.
Stoudt still has concerns and said he doesn’t know how the city will welcome the idea.
“You’re bringing in convicted felons that have served their time back into the community, and the facts are that anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of them will fail the program, which means that they’ll be out on the street, someone will be hurt, someone will be robbed, someone will be buying drugs from somebody; something’s going to happen with those people that didn’t make the program,” the judge said. “And we’re bringing them into this community? I don’t get that.”