For those old enough to remember, the closing of Phelps Correctional Center isn’t the first time jobs or industry have walked away from DeQuincy. The 1981 closing of the Boise Southern wood products plant took what had been as many as 350 jobs from DeQuincy. Before that, the town saw the closing of the Newport turpentine plant and the Missouri Pacific Railyard. (Johnathan Manning / American Press)
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 7:12 PM
DEQUINCY — For those old enough to remember, the closing of Phelps Correctional Center isn’t the first time jobs or industry have walked away from DeQuincy.
The 1981 closing of the Boise Southern wood products plant took what had been as many as 350 jobs from DeQuincy. Before that, the town saw the closing of the Newport turpentine plant and the Missouri Pacific Railyard.
DeQuincy is a railroad town at which trains no longer stop, Lillian Karr, head of the chamber of commerce, pointed out.
“DeQuincy has survived through so many things,” Karr said, then added: “DeQuincy has some way found a way to survive.”
That’s the lesson learned, old-timers said: DeQuincy will find a way to survive as it braces for the closing of Phelps by Nov. 1.
“We made it through that, and we’re going to make it through this,” said Butch Treme, who owns the local NAPA Auto Parts store. “The Lord will work it all out.”
Treme said his auto parts shop sometimes draws contracts with Phelps.
“Anytime you pull industry from a community, it hurts,” he said. “It’s just another one to leave DeQuincy.”
Treme said it isn’t local businesses that are his first concern, though; it’s the 269 Phelps employees who have been forced to seek transfers or new employment.
That’s a common belief among the townspeople.
“It’s gonna hurt us, but it won’t put us out of business,” said Rusty Nichols, of Nichols Dry Goods. “Who I really feel sorry for are the people that worked for Phelps.
“That was pretty low just to spring it on them like that.”
When Nichols was a boy of 8 or 9, he attended the barbecue groundbreaking ceremony for the prison, which opened in 1958.
Now, a half-century later, the state has decided to close the prison for financial reasons.
The state said it would save $2.6 million in the current fiscal year and $11.85 million over the next two years by closing the prison. When the state made the announcement on Friday, Sept. 14, it came as a surprise to the workers and DeQuincy residents alike — with some workers finding out about the closing through news outlets.
Several Nichols shoppers declined to be interviewed on a recent afternoon, but most expressed their displeasure at the decision to close the prison.
“It’s just so sad,” one woman said, shaking her head.
Karr used the words “heartbreaking” more than once, both to describe the closing in general and about the people who will soon be out of work.
“We’re a small town and those people who worked out there, a lot of them were our friends,” she said. “Our hearts just go out to all of them. The government kind of did them an injustice.”
The closing may aid the state’s budget, but it won’t help DeQuincy’s, Mayor Lawrence Henagan said.
“I understand times are hard and there’s a budget crunch,” Henagan said. “But you don’t do that to an area like this; you don’t do this to families and devastate an area’s economy.”
DeQuincy will also miss having prison labor nearby, he said. Prison workers laid the bricks and did the welding on storage rooms at City Hall, Henagan said.
“A lot of those types of projects we’re going to start missing out on,” he said. “It just made them feasible to do.”
Like his constituents, Henagan offered the same conviction: “DeQuincy will survive.”
There’s still the possibility the prison could be privatized or turned into a federal prison, which Henagan thinks is a “great idea” because of the benefits employees would be offered.
“No. 1, we want to put people back to work in jobs, but it’s good if we can put them back in jobs with benefits and retirements,” he said.
Henagan has not minced words over his displeasure with the state or Gov. Bobby Jindal for the way the closing was handled. He’s not backing down.
“Yes, I’m still mad. Yes, I’m going to be mad until we get these people some jobs,” he said. “I stand by my statement that the people were treated like dogs.”
While Karr and Henagan are hoping the prison grounds will be reopened, they also pointed to expansions like those ongoing at Sasol and Sempra’s Cameron LNG that could provide jobs for the Phelps workers.
“DeQuincy has taken hits like this before, but the Good Lord has always blessed us with something else to take its place,” Henagan said. “I think we’ll find something else to ease the pain, but I don’t know what that is right now.”
Posted By: wayne j On: 10/24/2012
Title: Prison Closure
Thank your republican governor, thanks to him I to lost a state job, to save money, but it cost several million dollars to do this!!!! The only thing he is saving is his money!!!! People better wake up and get rid of those money grubbers(republicans). Big business is destroying this country. No one wants to help the working man.