Clearfield County Commissioners on Tuesday approved agreements for the reopening of the Moshannon Valley Correctional Center as an immigration detention and processing center for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which could bring back approximately 300 jobs to the area.
Commissioners signed the five-year agreements at its meeting yesterday.
Due to regulations, Clearfield County would be the service provider for ICE and the GEO Group would fulfill the contract on the county’s behalf, county Solicitor Heather Bozovich said.
The county would almost be a “pass-through” entity, Bozovich said. ICE would pay the county and the county would in turn pay the GEO Group. And the GEO Group would assume all the responsibilities and liability in operating the facility.
The facility will have a capacity of 1,875 adult detainees and could employ up to 300 employees, GEO Group Director of Client Services David Venturella said.
The facility would not be at full capacity until the COVID-19 pandemic is over, Acting Director Brian McShane of the Philadelphia Field Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said.
The facility should be open within 45 to 60 days, Venturella said. The company is currently upgrading the exterior razor wire fences with “no climb” fences and it is expected to be completed prior to opening.
Initially it will only house up to 800 detainees and employ approximately 200 people, but the detainee population would increase as needed and the number of employees would also increase, Venturella said.
ICE is also looking to open a sub-field office with a handful of permanent staff at the facility, McShane said.
The agreements also include a robust transportation aspect where detainees would be transported outside the area, mostly to major metropolitan areas and then onto their final destinations, McShane said.
All three commissioners spoke in favor of reopening the facility.
“When the prison closed we lost close to 300 jobs, now we have the opportunity to restore those positions,” Commissioner John Sobel said. “You don’t get too many opportunities like that in life.”
Sobel said not only would it restore family sustaining jobs, but it would restore property tax dollars to local government entities.
Commissioners Tony Scotto and David Glass agreed, stating reopening the facility would allow many of the people who were employed there to remain in the area.
Glass said if the commissioners said no to the facility, ICE would send the detainees to smaller facilities throughout the region instead of coordinating them into one safe modern facility.
“It’s just better for everyone,” Glass said. “I think the pluses outweigh the minuses.”
ICE became interested in the facility after losing its contract with York County. York County held the detainees in its county jail. McShane couldn’t speak for York County but he said, unlike the Moshannon Valley Correctional Facility, York County housed the ICE detainees in the same facility as its county inmates, making for a more complex arrangement.
Venturella said GEO had been operating the facility in Decatur Township for approximately two decades. It’s previous client was the Federal Bureau of Prisons to house those who were serving prison sentences for federal felonies, and those who were found guilty of violating immigration statutes.
However, the Federal Bureau of Prisons ended that arrangement last March, causing more than 300 employees lost their jobs, many of them who were there for 20 years, Venturella said.
Under the new arrangement with ICE, ICE will detain individuals it is seeking to remove during their immigration proceedings, McShane said.
“We are thankful for the opportunity to work with the county officals and we are grateful to be able to reemploy almost 300 individuals who have been long time residents of the community and long term residents of the community,” Venturella said.