Letter to the Editor

To the Editor: As a multiple year member of what was known as the Arkansas Youth Services Board, I am quite familiar with the Pine Bluff facility being abandoned by ACC if they are successful in their efforts to relocate to the location of our former local hospital. I have walked the halls of every building there, taken many meals in the cafeteria, as a matter of fact, if the plaques have not been removed by now, one could find my name on a couple of the buildings on the campus for I served as Chairman of AYSB at the time the fence that surrounds that campus was constructed. I know the ages of the buildings and how the campus functioned in years past. I know it well. As state governmental administrations have changed in the years since my service on that Board, views on how to handle those within the criminal justice systems have also changed and with those changes more and more there has been a movement toward private entities contracting to provide needed services to that population. With that privatization companies such as ACC have sprung up nationwide – some do an average job, some less than average, but none that I have found do an exceptional job of providing services to those adjudicated as criminals. Recidivism rates vary but are always higher than would be hoped. ACC, from all that I can learn by what research I have had time to do, is not outstanding, but is about average in their delivery of services to the adjudicate population they serve. In the matter of ACC wanting to take control of what was our local hospital and converting it into a women’s prison, I have decided to take a public stand against this project. White the ACC offer comes with the promotion of local employment, they have failed to disclose the number of positions and the level of employment those positions would offer the local community. It can be assumed they will seek to relocate as many of their professional and upper management staff with them as possible. That is a logical conclusion because of the ease of transition it would create for them. From drawing that conclusion, I can only assume that means the kitchen staff, grounds staff, housekeeping staff etc. would be the positions open to the local community residents. While all jobs have worth and dignity, they do not all have equal pay and benefits. My personal preference would be for our local leadership to be searching for higher paying employment rather than lower paying employment for our local citizens. Having driven to the Pine Bluff campus more times than I can even count, I think it is critically important for our elected leaders to keep in mind that the PB campus is remote. Being on the edge of the city rather than the heart of the city is important to me. Do we really want a prison on one of the main streets of our city? How does this fit into the MainStreet West Memphis plan for enhancing and supporting our local merchants? What happens to the image we are trying to portray when we bring prospective industry executives or other who might consider bringing industry to our community? How do we point with any measure of pride and assurance that ours is a wonderful place to relocate a family when a drive down Broadway takes new families right past a prison? How far around the perimeter of the property will there be posted signs warning of a prison? Will there be signs along Broadway and Avalon warning residents that escaped prisoners might be in the area? My list of question could go on and on. Others have mentioned declining property values as a negative impact and I agree with them. Others have mentioned not having control over what kinds of felons would be housed by ACC as an issue and I agree with them. Others have raised old and familiar stigmas that West Memphis has always had, and I agree with them – we don’t need another one added to those we have fought to diminish for years. Lots of reasons for not wanting this facility in this location have been cited and I agree with most all of them. If ACC wanted to come to Crittenden County purchase some land out in the county and build themselves a new facility. I would be happy for them to do so, provided they assured this community they were taking all necessary steps to build a safe and secure facility, but to locate in a main area of our city is not acceptable to me. I understand the county judge and quorum court wanting this financial drain off their plate. I just do not see this as a good solution to a serious problem. It is my understand some of the elected officials in the City of West Memphis, if allowed to do so, could probably come up with a more acceptable solution to this issue. Why not allow them to do so? The County should contract with the City then work together to find a better solution than what is currently on the table. ACC will not be a solution – it will just create a different problem. But, it would get it off the county judge and quorum court’s plate. It seems that is their only goal. They appear to be grasping at straws rather than considering the impact of their actions on this city and its residents. Respectfully submitted, Lavonda Taylor

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