Ark. Dept. of Community Corrections celebrates success a year after opening

Ark. Dept. of Community Corrections celebrates success a year after opening

Facility housed in old hospital has ‘ seen a lot of success,’ director tells Quorum Court

It’s been a year since opening its doors in the former Crittenden Hospital building, and unless you knew it was there, the facility on West Tyler Avenue which now houses low-risk female drug offenders is practically invisible.

Residents will be pleased to know, however, about all of the good work taking place inside to help return those offenders back into society as productive citizens.

“We’ve seen a lot of successes and people getting their lives back together,” said Jimmy Banks, chief deputy director of Arkansas Community Correction Residential Services. “And that’s what we’re all about — trying to make a difference.”

Arkansas Community Corrections officials gave an update to the county Quorum Court this week about the progress at the facility.

The county leased the building to ACC (which had been empty since 2014 when the hospital closed and declared bankruptcy) in 2016 for a rehabilitation treatment center to house 350 non-violent, low-risk female offenders. ACC closed its center in Pine Bluff and transferred the inmates to West Memphis along with 125 jobs.

Center Administrator Phyllis Silas said the inmates moved in to the building in June 2016 and that they currently have 359 inmates — seven of which are from Crittenden County.

Silas said the inmates participate in a mandatory substance abuse program and that they also offer a wide range of educational opportunities.

They began offering college courses through Shorter College which allows inmates to earn college credit toward a degree. In addition, last semester 39 women earned their General Equivalency Degree. “We do invest in education for our population,” Silas said.

Banks said they just added a boiler operation certification program. “As you know, the facility is heated with boilers,” Banks said. “We have a certified boiler instructor that is at our facility. The inspector said he had not only never tested a woman before, but he had never had nine pass at one time.”

ACC also recently was awarded a grant to add a welding program and will be meeting soon with Arkansas State Mid-South about partnering with them to allow their inmates to enroll in the school’s hospitality management program. “In Texarkana we have an on site welding program with an instructor there. And in Osceola we partner with the local college. That’s what we are wanting to do here,” Banks said. “And they’re (ASU Mid-South) is excited about it because they are struggling to keep up with their balance in the welding program because it is traditionally male. This will allow them to do that.

“The university also wants to get us involved in their hospitality program. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks we will have that worked out.”

Silas added that the inmates are also involved in community service. The inmates helped set up a Relay for Life event and also assisted Hope House Ministries packing food items.

Amelia Barton, executive director of DeltaArts which is housed next door in the Schoettle Center, said inmates do yard work and help out with cleaning.

“We just have a wonderful partnership with them,” Bar

Photo courtesy of Arkansas Community Corrections -ton said. “The ladies come over to clean the building and work with us to set up tables at events. And while they are there they get to look at the art and we share experiences with them. It’s very positive.”

Justice Lorenzo Parker asked how many people employed at the facility are from Crittenden County.

“My idea when we approved this was number one, to allow you to use the facility. And number two, to bring job opportunities here,” Parker said.

Banks said he did not have an exact number of employees who live in Crittenden County, but said most are from the area.

They have 125 total positions at the facility, 110 of which are filled. Only 17 employees transferred from Pine Bluff and of that only four are still there.

“I’m not going to say that all of them are from Crittenden County,” Banks said. “But most are from a recruitable distance from around the four county area. They don’t drive any further than 45 minutes, On top of that, we are committed to hiring as many as we can from Crittenden County.”

County Judge Woody Wheeless encouraged the justices and residents to visit the facility to see the good work that they are doing.

“That place is very nice,” Wheeless said. “Thank you for partnering with our county. We are grateful to have you.”

“We are very pleased to be in West Memphis,” Banks added.

By Mark Randall