CLEARFIELD – A former private prison near Philipsburg will not sit empty and soon reopen as a federal immigration detention center for primarily adult males.
On Tuesday, the Clearfield County Commissioners voted to approve a pair of five-year contracts, allowing the facility to reopen as a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Center.
The first item approved was an agreement with ICE for the county to operate a federal immigration detention center in Decatur Township near Philipsburg.
The second was a global agreement with GEO Group to reopen the former private prison and operate it as a federal immigration center.
The MVCC housed 1,878 beds and employed nearly 300 people, said David Venturella, senior vice president/client relations for GEO Group, which has operated the facility for over 20 years.
It held individuals sentenced for federal felonies and who were also in violation of immigration statutes. It closed March 31 after the Federal Bureau of Prisons chose not to renew its contract.
GEO Group provides contracted services – like detention, transportation and healthcare, to government clients and so it marketed the facility to other state and federal agencies.
After ICE lost a major contract with the York County Jail, it developed interest in the MVCC and toured the facility, Venturella said.
GEO Group also operates other special-purpose, state-of-the-art residential centers on behalf of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The entities have plans for a phased opening with about 800 detainees, beginning in 45 to 60 days, according to Venturella and Brian McShane, acting director of ICE’s Philadelphia Field Office.
“Immigration detention is not punitive detention,” McShane explained. “Immigration detention is to secure removal from the country or detention through the removal proceedings.”
McShane did admit that some detainees may have criminal convictions, but said that wouldn’t be the cause or reason for their detention. “It would be for immigration purposes.”
All detainees are “vetted” by ICE prior to arrival at facilities, he said, and according to Venturella, GEO is also upgrading to “no-climb” perimeter fencing.
GEO Group follows all federal guidance to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, Venturella said, and will offer detainees testing and vaccinations.
The facility reopening will restore 200 jobs and GEO Group may add 100 more down the road, if the facility would reach its full capacity of 1,876 detainees, Venturella said.
ICE has been operating its centers at around 75 percent capacity due to COVID concerns, McShane said, noting he doesn’t expect this facility to be at capacity until after the pandemic.
He went on to say while the Moshannon Valley facility will be a hub for the Northeast Region, it could accept detainees from across the country, if the need arises.
Detainees – upon release – will be transferred to major transportation hubs like Philadelphia or Pittsburgh to travel to their final destination as determined by ICE, McShane said.
ICE Processing Centers operated by GEO Group abide by strict national performance-based standards, which were disseminated by the federal government in 2011 and updated in 2016.
All three Commissioners John Sobel, Tony Scotto and Dave Glass said they saw the reopening of the MVCC as an opportunity to restore hundreds of local jobs and the tax base.