Last Modified: Monday, September 17, 2012 4:50 PM
The aftershock tremors continue to rumble through Southwest Louisiana today after Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration announced last week that C. Paul Phelps Correctional Center in DeQuincy will close.
The shuttering of the 54-year-old facility, the largest state-operated prison in our corner of the state, will cost the area about 260 direct jobs and countless more indirect jobs in the DeQuincy area.
It’s a blow to Southwest Louisiana, and in particular, DeQuincy and the surrounding areas in northern Calcasieu Parish and southern Beauregard Parish. The job loss is equivalent to the Lake Charles metro area losing more than 1,500 direct jobs
Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc said the state wants to lease the Phelps facility, but so far has no prospects. He said about 100 employees will be offered transfers to other correctional facilities.
That’s little comfort to dozens of employees who have worked for years at Phelps and have their roots firmly planted in Southwest Louisiana. Those that may lose their jobs include several husband and wife duos who were employed at the facility.
‘‘It’s kind of like a divorce, it’s just hearbreaking,’’ said Carrie Wilson, who has worked at Phelps for 11 years.
It’s also a shock for more than 920 minimum- and medium-security inmates at Phelps, the vast majority of whom will be transferred to Angola State Prison, the state’s only maximum security prison.
A source with knowledge of both prisons said the majority of Phelps’ inmates are serving two- to five-year sentences while most of the Angola inmates will never be free. The crimes the Phelps’ inmates committed don’t rise to the level of a hell-hole like Angola.
Phelps has earned a strong reputation for rehabilitation programs that include training overseen by Sowela Technical Community College that leads to certification in welding, plumbing, electrical and automotive technology. Will they receive that caliber of training at Angola?
Phelps’ inmates have also served on road crews, cleaning state highways and roads in Beauregard, Calcasieu and Cameron parishes. If they aren’t available, the taxpayer will have to pick up the tab for those duties.
The announcement also caught several area legislators off guard.
‘‘No one in authority seems to be able to tell me how the closing of Phelps will save money for the state,’’ said state Rep. Dorothy Sue Hill, D-Dry Creek.
State Representative James K. Armes, D-Leesville, said adding hundreds of additional inmates to the Angola population will make that prison, which has undergone staff cuts, ‘‘a more dangerous place to work.’’
“For me, this is a surprise to all of us who represent Southwest Louisiana,’’ he said. ‘‘Not one of us (including Joint Budget or Appropriations Committee members) was even given the common courtesy of being contacted. I speak for myself, but I believe the Southwest delegation will agree that this is another short-sighted decision from our governor.
‘‘Governor’s Jindal’s administration has already darn near shut down Moss Regional Hospital in Lake Charles, and now this. The pain from the administration’s actions continues to be felt by businesses, working families and families who will have to travel farther to visit their incarcerated loved ones.
‘‘Where is all of this going to stop? This stinks to high heaven and I am about fed up with what’s happening to the people of my district (Vernon and Beauregard Parishes) and our state.”
Contrast his reaction to that of Speaker of the House Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles: ‘‘You hate to see anybody as a citizen of the state lose a job, especially those folks where there are not a lot of other opportunities. It’s going to have a ripple effect on whole communities, including retailers. We’re talking about families being affected.’’
We’re confident that had a similar closing happened in the area of Kleckley’s predecessor, Jim Tucker, you can bet Tucker would have been leading the complaints. Not Kleckley, who is deep into Jindal’s back pocket.
Then there’s the governor himself, who doesn’t miss an opportunity to tout economic development projects, whether they be big or small. But when it comes to the loss of jobs that will be devastating to DeQuincy’s economy and tax base, the word trickles out late on a Friday.
The good folks of DeQuincy and those loyal employees of Phelps deserved much better than this.
Sadly, though, Jindal is like Oz’s Tinman — a character without a heart.
This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney, Jim Beam, Dennis Spears, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.
Posted By: Joe Gibbs On: 9/22/2012
Title: What is up with these Leges?
Are they so terrified of their political careers being limited, of having to live a normal life, that they are afraid to oppose Dictator Jindal? Is it an ambition thing to them? (Don't want to cut short a political career that is sure to lead to great power). I'm a longtime Republican, conservative, Jindal supporter, and it seems obvious that Jindal needs to be checked in some way because his actions and methods are beyond reproach.
Posted By: tearsa dawn On: 9/20/2012
Title: the governor doesnt care
I think tht this is wrong our so call governor has no respect for others well being and their families he's not losing anything at all so he doesn't care about wht happens to others. Just think about the families tht will be effected behind this.I hope and pray tht something can be done about this cause its wrong and cruel.God is not pleased with this at all.I pray tht something changes for these people cause they need their jobs.God be with them all and oneday our governor will have to answer for the bad decisions he has made for our state.God bless u all.
Posted By: Ethyl Burgess On: 9/18/2012
As an employee of over 18 years the way we were notified was like a slap in the face. Surely this could have been postponed until after Christmas. Phelps budget for the fiscal year was already approved, why couldn't the closure wait until after the fiscal year is over, since the budget and money IS there for the rest of the fiscal year. I would be able to retire in about 3 years, with my only option now is to transfer to another prison 4 hours from my home, or lose my retirement, insurance, and kiss 18 years goodbye to a job that I considered a career. Yes I would be able to stay at Angola on my "work" days and then first of all drive a total of 6 trips there and back each month, then consider the cost of gas, wear and tear on my vehicle and use a good portion of my off time driving back and forth.
I have personally not taken any sick days in several years, only took off on 1 scheduled vacation a year. I personally know another two other employees that have not called in sick for 9 years. "is this the thanks we get?"
As I sat his morning trying to figure how I would pay my mortgage, utilities, car payment, etc, I wondered if who ever made this decision has ever had to do this. Probably not or maybe they would have come to a another decision.
Do we leave our families to be able to keep a job with the Department of Corrections, drive 4 hours one way 6 times a month, burn money for gas and go through extreme stress just trying to figure out what to do? if I decide to take a job transfer to Angola, do I just leave my disabled husband, children and grandchildren behind, and pray nothing happens to any of them and I am 4 hours away, or do I quit and kiss the last 18 years of my life goodbye, thinking I would be able to retire as planned. There are a lot of employees at Phelps in similar positions. There "IS" no good Decision to come to, only which will be the least harmful to myself and my family. I hope the voters of Louisiana remember if you have a friend, loved one or even it's you, that this prison closure has devastated, that if it can be done to us then it can be done to other state workers. Some of us do take pride in our job, don't call in sick all the time and do a good job at work. "This is the thanks I get for 18 years of being a loyal employee for the state of Louisiana." I know one day these people that decided to do this will answer to some one higher than themselves. To be notified of our job closure the way we were was not only devastating but completely disrespect. At least we could have been notified before press releases, the public and offenders knew. Surely the prison could remain open for at least the rest of the fiscal year, which we have the budget for. Our prison, Phelps, is definitely not inefficient and old.
Posted By: Annolene Bourgeois On: 9/18/2012
Title: Phelps in DeQuincy
Perhaps the governor lost government funding, as has been happening across the nation. In Eugene Oregon, they have let criminals out of jail because of loss of funding, and onto the streets. Sad situation the country is in.
Posted By: Dwight On: 9/18/2012
"No one in authority seems to be able to tell me how the closing of Phelps will save money for the state" Ok folks, this is the scenario, everyone is upset that so many people will lose jobs and all of the upheaval the closing causes, then at the last minute a hero in the form of a private prison firm will appear take over the the prison and save the jobs. Of course there will have to be some firings but most folks will still have jobs. Only they will be at 60% of the previous pay and they will have no job security or retirement.
The people of Louisiana made a big, big mistake when they elected Bobby Jindal. All he cares about now is burnish his reputation with the national republican(read tea) party.
As for Chuck this should give a push to the recall effort. "Deep in the Jindal's back pocket" indeed.