Phelps Correctional employees worry for the future - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Phelps Correctional employees worry for the future

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DEQUINCY, LA (KPLC) -

Karen Hillery is a single mother who has served as a sergeant at the C. Paul Phelps Correctional Center for the past six years. Needing two jobs to stay afloat for herself and her children, her job at Phelps served as the primary money maker. When she heard on Friday that her job would be taken away come November, she was devastated.

"It hurts. It really does," said Hillery. "We work hard here. We're like a family and I feel like our work here has just gone unappreciated."

She's not alone in her feelings. Assistant Warden Jolene Constance has been connected to Phelps since she was 20 years old in 1978. Now, she's forced to retire and come up with money for a down payment to purchase a home since she currently resides on the prison's grounds.

"It would have been nice to have some prior notice," Constance said. "I don't know how budgets work, but even if this could have been a Dec. 31 decision, that would have been a little better."

These concerns of lost jobs and alternate lifestyles was one of the reasons DeQuincy Mayor Lawrence Henagan called a special meeting on Sunday with the mayors of Sulphur, Lake Charles and Vinton, city council members and state Rep. Dorothy Sue Hill, D-Dry Creek.

"I have yet to receive a call letting me know what's going on," said Henagan. "There was no warning, no heads up, nothing."

Phelps does not lie directly in Hill's district but she feels a very close connection to the people the closure is affecting.

She said the effects of the closure are going to be felt all around Southwest Louisiana, not just the city limits of DeQuincy. Currently, Phelps inmates perform services in Calcasieu cities and outlying municipalities. She said all of that will be lost.

There are plans to come up with a resolution between an alliance of Calcasieu Parish districts that would go before Gov. Bobby Jindal for further consideration.

As of now, employees have been told that there may be spots for employment at other facilities in the state. But as Hillery said, that's impractical, having to uproot children from schools and find alternate places of residence hours away from where she calls home.

From Pam Laborde with the State Dept. of Corrections:

"Closing Phelps and moving its prison population to prisons with sufficient
capacity will save taxpayers $12 million dollars a year, while maintaining
our strong commitment to public safety.

"Phelps was chosen for consolidation because the facility was old and
inefficient, making it very costly for taxpayers to operate.  The majority
of Phelps offenders will be transferred to Louisiana State Penitentiary
where they will be housed separately from those serving life sentences, and
have access to comparable reentry services than they did at Phelps.

"This is a good deal for Louisiana taxpayers and will result in significant
savings while maintaining public safety."

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