August 13, 2014 Edition

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State prison voted down

Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

In a 5-4 vote, justices voted against applying to have a proposed multi-million dollar maximum-security state prison located in Lawrence County at Monday night's quorum court meeting.

The votes were cast after a discussion about prospective benefits and risks the prison would offer. Justice Jim Jones started by saying that a prison like this would house the worst of the worst.

"We have an obligation to bring industry into Lawrence County, but we also have an obligation to protect our county," Jones said.

While Jones said he didn't believe an inmate could escape from the facility itself, he did fear the possibility of an escape taking place should a prisoner require medical attention at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. Justice Lloyd Clark said he thought that sounded over-dramatic and until he saw statistics stating otherwise, he didn't believe the prison to be a risk.

Many visitors were in favor of the prison due to the economic boost it would have given the county. The facility would have employed hundreds.

County Judge Dale Freeman said he knows he has been indecisive in his stance regarding the prison, releasing multiple statements to local papers both for and against the prison.

He said after speaking with county residents and hearing that the majority were for the prison, that he is giving his full support to the state prison and the job opportunities available there, and would accept any political backlash that came from that. Freeman said he didn't care if he wasn't reelected because of this, he didn't want to miss the opportunity to provide jobs for 500 people.

Jones said he feared the prison wouldn't be the boon the job market needed as he felt the turnover rate would be too high and job opportunities for women and those near retirement would be limited.

Coty Powers, correctional officer at Newport, countered this by saying that the state prison in Newport employs many women and often has job opportunities for those about to reach retirement age. Jones said while that may be the case in Newport, the prison proposed for Lawrence County is a higher security facility and will likely hire based on different criteria.

Other concerns regarding the prison were discussed including its effects on tourism and where the facility would be located.

When the votes were cast, Justices Nathan Crafton, Jim Jones, Kenny Jones, Alex Latham and Tracy Moore voted against applying.

Freeman said that he needed the decision made at the meeting in order to have enough time to apply. Since the prison was voted down, he said the issue was dead.

In other business, Freeman said the Lawrence County Jail was recently inspected by the State Police Fire Marshal Division and a list of required repairs was left with the Sheriff's Department.

Repairs include updating the sprinkler and fire alarm systems, painting the facility and clearing out excess stored items to increase accessibility.

Freeman said Sheriff Jody Dotson already has people working towards making these repairs. A committee was formed to oversee the repairs, and Justices Jim Jones, Kenny Jones and Lloyd Clark were appointed to the committee.

Also at the meeting:

  • Justice Doug Wayland proposed the county buy 12 lots, 1.5 acres, currently owned by The Children's Shelter. The lots are adjacent to 24 lots, six acres, the county also purchased from the shelter and have recently paid off. The court agreed to send in a bid for the land.

  • Justices reviewed comp time hour reports for the Sheriff's Department and eight employees still had hours exceeding 100. Justices will review numbers again at the next regular meeting to see if the hours are being used properly.

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