Editorial: Phelps employees, DeQuincy residents deserve better than this

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.

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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.