Concern budget cuts could close Phelps prison

DEQUINCY, LA (KPLC) - Phelps Correctional Center is a medium security prison with close to a thousand inmates.. But to Felicia Gatlin, it represents a career. She's been a correctional officer for ten years. "We keep inmates in the fence, offenders inside."

She's a single mother who supports three children talk of closure brings her to tears. "I have a family to take care of. I want them to think about the little people like us. We're trying to make it too."

Warden Robert Henderson says cuts publicized as five per cent are closer to 17 per cent and would put Phelps in a position of not being able to pay the light bill. "We would only have $264,000 to spend for supplies, travel services and things like that. We spent $120,000 on water alone last year. We spent $450,000 on food and about that much on electricity."

He says some inmates would be difficult to place. "We have some 300 offenders who are medical cases or mental health cases, 30 offenders alone in wheel chairs." And Henderson says closure of Phelps would hurt the local economy and public utilities."We're the biggest employer probably between Lake Charles and Fort Polk."

In the City of Dequincy Phelps Correctional Center has quite an impact. Mayor Lawrence Henagan says it would be devastating if the prison were to close. "You're talking 320 jobs, people's livelihoods, what it means, the income it brings to the town through taxes. People come up and visit the inmates, they buy things in town."

He adds inmates do work for local governments that otherwise wouldn't get done which also provides rehabilitation that helps some find jobs when they finish their time. And if the prison suffers cuts but stays open, well Henderson is concerned about security.  He said, "We wouldn't have anybody to respond to emergencies. It would jeopardize the safety of our staff and of our offenders."

They hope legislators will hear their concerns and consider potential results of cuts.

Copyright 2011 KPLC. All rights reserved.

Here is the full text of a news release issued by Warden Henderson at Phelps:


 On Thursday, May 26, 2011, the Louisiana House of Representatives passed House Bill #1 with recommended budget cuts to C. Paul Phelps Correctional Center of $1,789,060 in addition to budget cuts of $1,426,098 as recommended by the Division of Administration.

 The cuts total $3,531,879 which is approximately 15% of the amount received in fiscal year 2010/2011.  The House recommended that the prison reduce its supplies, travel, services, acquisitions, and other charges by $1,205,908 and did not fund a 27th pay period for fiscal year 2011/2012 in the amount of $583,152.

 Robert Henderson, the Warden at PCC, stated that PCC was not recommended for any money for acquisitions or major repairs and since the recommended budget for fiscal year 2011/2012 had only $2,053,148 for travel, supplies, and services, cuts by HB1 would leave only $264,088 – an inadequate amount to pay for all of these categories.  As an example, PCC spent nearly $110,000 on water last year, $652,246 for utilities, and $462,533 for food.  If the budget cuts approved by the House remain in effect, there would be no money for water, food, utilities, medicine, x-ray services, etc.  Warden Henderson was quoted as saying that he found it difficult to believe the House Appropriations Committee expected a prison to operate with such budget cuts and did not believe the members were aware of the impact of their recommendation.

As an alternative, while HB1 did not suggest cuts in staffing, some 59 more staff (in addition to the 28 positions now being vacated) would have to be let go.  This would be a total of nearly 120 staff positions lost in the last three years.  Public safety, the safety of staff, and offenders would become an issue. 

There is still the possibility that the Louisiana Senate will restore some of the cuts made by the House of Representatives.  Otherwise, the Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Corrections has indicated the possibility of closing PCC.

Warden Henderson indicated he is concerned that closing is a very real possibility.  If this occurs, some 350 jobs would be lost. Southwest Louisiana would be economically impacted in a negative fashion with the loss of some $20,000,000 in salaries and offenders housed at PCC would be transferred to other facilities, presenting travel difficulties for families.

PCC provides a facility for offenders who are generally well behaved and will be released in a matter of years.  PCC has some 300 offenders with medical and mental health concerns who may not be able to function well in a different facility.

Warden Henderson advised that if you have an interest in keeping PCC open and in being an asset to Southwest Louisiana, now is the time to contact your elected officials.  Corrections and prisons do not have an advocacy group like hospitals and colleges, but do perform basic services which are extremely valuable to society.  The Legislature needs to know just how devastating these budget cuts are and the potential results.