Treating a different kind of sickness

Plan would turn old hospital into new rehabilitation center

By John Rech

No bars on the windows, no razor wire fence, no violent offenders, the proposed Arkansas Department of Community Corrections (ACC) Center would aim to rehabilitate non-violent offenders at the vacant county hospital building in West Memphis. The last county tenant, the defunct Crittenden Regional Hospital endured physician attrition and could not fill all the beds, resulting in fatal financial woes further inflamed by two fires at the facility that finally scuttled the ship in the summer of 2014. A use for the old hospital building is the last piece to slide into place around the saga to save the hospital. With voters considering redirecting the one-cent five-year hospital sales tax and a bond to finance $25 million for a new Baptist Crittenden Hospital on North 7th Street in today’s election, the only unanswered question remained definite plans for the old Crittenden Regional building. Filling the 400 beds will no longer be a problem if the center at Pine Bluff relocates to West Memphis. According ACC Deputy Director of Communications and Public Affairs Dina Tyler, everyone involved seems to have the same heading with some details still in the works. “We would need approval of the lease from both the Crittenden County Quorum Court and our board,” said Tyler Monday morning. “We’ve had success moving into old hospitals before. We are still reviewing the lease agreement.” The county intends to let out the facility for the rehabilitation program for a token one dollar a year, just like it did for the old hospital. The plan makes way for one less vacant building in West Memphis and removes the necessity to consider funding a seven figure demolition project. As many as 138 job transfers will be offered to staff at Pine Bluff. Using old hospitals is a model that the ACC has worked with before. Tyler drew a clear lines between this center and prisons run by a different agency, the Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC). “We are sister agencies run by the same board,” explained Tyler. “The Department of Correction has adult prisons, that’s what they do. Arkansas Community Corrections has adult probation, adult parole, and we have five community correction centers which are residential facilities.” Residents at the community correction center are assigned by a court room judge for a mandatory 270 day rehabilitation program. The maximum sentence considered for the program is 4 years with parole available upon successful completion. Success rates are outstanding as measured by repeat offenders according to Community Corrections. “The center we hope to move has the absolute lowest recidivism rate in the state at 23 percent,” said Tyler. “We are succeeding 77 percent of the time. The Department of Correction recidivism rate is 48 percent. Anytime recidivism is even in the 30’s it’s really something to celebrate. Our rehabilitation program works really well. There are no aggravated robbers, kidnappers, or murderers. The ADC deals with some different buckaroos. The ones here have a drug related crime.” “They stay with us no more than two years. Their crimes have to be nonviolent and non-sexual,” said Tyler. While photos of the current Southeast Arkansas Community Correction Center in Pine Bluff clearly show a fenced in campus, Tyler said the ACC inherited the 30 buildings there from a home for wayward boys, complete with a fence. “There will be no fence around this facility expect for a supervised exercise area in the back,” said Tyler. Residents at Pine Bluff wear canary yellow jump suits and that will not change with the move according to Brian Holt the Area 9 Manager who already offices in West Memphis on Shopping Way. Holt said his group will move offices into the Physicians Building next door to the hospital after some remodeling. The proposed move comes after a year of looking at options by the ACC. “We are trying to hold them accountable and keep them active,” said Holt. “A lot of times when they go to ADC they are just doing time. They are not required to go to these things. We are making them go to counseling sessions.” “We are treatment oriented,” said Tyler. “They spend a lot of time with councilors, in group session, individual sessions. There are different focuses, parenting and life skills. If they don’t have their GED they must work on it. College classes are available. Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous are available in the evening. The chaplaincy program here is huge.”


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