The water tower at the C. Paul Phelps Correctional Center. (American Press Archives)
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 01, 2014 11:08 AM
Friday’s announcement that Phelps Correctional Center in DeQuincy may get a new life spawned positive ripples throughout Southwest Louisiana.
The 55-year-old prison has been shuttered since Nov. 1, 2012, after the state abruptly announced its intentions to close the facility and move prisoners elsewhere. At the time, Phelps employed 269 people, and its closure represented a painful blow to DeQuincy and the surrounding areas.
Now Phelps will be repurposed and renamed the Southwest Workforce Development Transitional Work Program. Requests for proposals will go out seeking bids to run the facility as one of the state’s centers that trains inmates to re-enter the workforce and community. Those RFPs are due to the state Department of Corrections office by May 13.
Prisoners convicted of nonviolent and non-sexual crimes who are within six months to three years of being released will be eligible to be transferred to the DeQuincy facility to receive counseling and skill training. Inmates who already have craft training or vocational certification will be eligible for transfer to the facility four years prior to their release.
Besides work skills, inmates will receive training in money and anger management and decision making skills.
The initial goal is to train 300 men in craft-related fields, but DOC officials acknowledge that the 942-bed facility at DeQuincy provides room for the program to grow.
Speaker of the House Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, said while several short-term purposes for Phelps had been proposed since it closed, state lawmakers and the Jindal administration were seeking ‘‘a long-term fix for DeQuincy and Southwest Louisiana.’’
State Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur, said one of the proposals was to turn Phelps into a facility to house the surge of construction workers expected in the area of the next few years.
‘‘ ... down the road when all of the construction is over, we would be right back to where we were at,’’ he said. ‘‘This is about longevity, the jobs that people lost here that are now coming back.’’
It also means the facility will have a hand in providing the skilled workers the coming economic boom is going to demand in Southwest Louisiana. And given the training it will provide, it has the potential to reduce the number of people returning to prison.
This is a win in triplicate: for the inmate to receive valuable training, for DeQuincy and surrounding areas to have a large employer reopen and for Southwest Louisiana to have another training avenue that produces skilled workers.