Pine Bluff seeks to keep ACC center

Mayor: ‘People really want it here’

By Ralph Hardin ralphhardin@gmail.com

While Crittenden County residents remain split on the potential of turning the former Crittenden Regional Hospital into an Arkansas Department of Community Correction facility for women, the community that currently houses the Southeast Arkansas Community Correction Center is fighting to keep the ACC from moving to West Memphis. “People really want it here,” said Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth. Hollingsworth and other Pine Bluff officials are fighting to keep the facility, and its 138 employees, there. The mayor and other members of the community have launched an effort to petition Governor Asa Hutchinson, appealing to the governor to step in and halt the move. While Hutchinson has not indicated that he would take steps to prevent the move, he did say, “If there is a relocation, I’ve directed the Department of Community Correction to make sure that the employees at the Pine Bluff facility are given opportunities for good paying jobs within other areas of the Department of Corrections in the Pine Bluff area.” The ACC is seeking to make the move to West Memphis, because the current location is badly in need of millions of dollars worth of repairs, and while the former Crittenden Regional site would also need money spent retrofitting it to meet the ACC’s needs, the price tag would be far less than to fix the Pine Bluff facility, according to ACC Deputy Director Dina Tyler. Tyler also said the 138 employees in Pine Bluff can either move with the ACC to West Memphis or accept one of more than 300 jobs currently available in the immediate Pine Bluff area with the Arkansas Department of Corrections, the ACC’s sister agency. “With those options, we feel no one has to lose employment,” said Tyler. A recent public forum showed that local residents were divided on the possibility of turning the hospital, vacant since August 2014, into a rehabilitation and treatment center for non-violent offenders, women primarily working through drug-related offenses. While arguments about property values and finding a better alternative have been made, Crittenden County Judge Woody Wheeless, explained, “What I hear more from people who are against it is, ‘We do not want a prison in our community.’” Some raising concerns appear to be under the impression that bringing the ACC to West Memphis is one of several options being considered. That is not the case. After working with various entities to bring other tenants to the former hospital, including a senior center and a veteran’s home, the county has had no other takers. Others also have raised concerns that the women brought into the community by the ACC pose a safety threat. However, the Department of Community Correction already maintains a center in West Memphis, located at 250 Shoppingway Blvd. The ACC West Memphis office, which has hundreds of individuals under its purview, runs a substance abuse program and drug court, as well as parole and probation services. These individuals, however, rather than being confined to a centralized facility, live and work in the community, monitored either through electronic ankle monitors, regularly scheduled appointments, drug screenings, or a combination of these treatments. While the Quorum Court will likely vote on the matter Tuesday at the board’s next meeting, ultimately, the ACC will have to get approval from the City of West Memphis, through the City Council and Planning Commission.

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