Sturch among justices ‘inclined to support it’
By Mark Randall firstname.lastname@example.org
Members of the county Quorum Court say they are receptive to a proposed plan by Arkansas Community Corrections to move a licensed treatment center for female offenders to the old Crittenden Regional Hospital building, but are still gathering more information before they make a decision. “I’m more favorable to it than unfavorable,” said Justice Kenneth Cross. “I’m still getting information, but I am teetering toward it.” ACC has approached the county about leasing the former hospital building for a 350 bed licensed treatment center for non-violent female drug offenders. The department currently has five similar centers across the state — three for males and two for females. Inmates participate in a 270 day program which teaches life skills and work skills needed in order to return to being productive citizens. All inmates in the program also earn their GED. Officials from ACC met with the public during a meeting earlier this week to answer questions about the facility. Cross said he likes the fact that the facility will bring 138 new jobs and $6 million into the local economy. “I like the numbers,” Cross said. “Plus, they said they have never had anyone break out.” Justice Vickie Robertson, who was not at the public meeting, said she is still talking to residents to get feedback on the proposal. “I’m still trying to hear some more information before I make up my mind,” Robertson said. “They met with the doctors and they didn’t have a problem with it.” Residents who spoke at the meeting expressed safety concerns and fears about the possibility that property values will be negatively impacted. But according to ACC officials, the program only has a 28 percent recidivism rate and their facilities located in residential neighborhoods have never drawn any complaints from neighbors. “Some of the people who were complaining about property values are all the way down in the other end, because it is the people in Riverbend that are much closer than some of the people at the country club,” Robertson said. “So I don’t see where they have a legitimate property value complaint about that.” Justice Lisa O’Neal, who is a Realtor, said she believes the facility will be extremely safe and in no way endanger the community. All offenders are non-violent and are supervised 24 hours a day. “One of the complaints was that most of the justices live in Marion,” O’Neal said. “Based on what I heard, I would have no problem living next to one if it were in Marion.” Justice Ronnie Sturch said he was very impressed with ACC’s public presentation. “At this point I am inclined to support it,” Sturch said. “I don’t know any reason why I wouldn’t. I think it would be good for the county and bring a lot of jobs to the county. I heard a lot of fear — fear of the unknown. And that is understandable. But I think it would be good.” County Judge Woody Wheeless said he is just waiting to hear back from ACC about the terms of the lease. The Quorum Court will meet on March 15 but could hold a special meeting earlier to vote on the matter.