Thursday, October 1, 2009
Learning about prison
I took my shoes off.
I cleared my pockets.
I was asked to remove my watch and my belt.
And before all that, I had to take my cell phone back to my vehicle.
But it was understandable. I was visiting a prison.
The Marshall County Correctional Facility hosted its annual community relations meeting last Thursday during the lunch hour.
By the way, I got my shoes, watch and belt back before entering the dining area.
It was my second year to attend the meeting. Warden Jessie Streeter and his executive staff again did an excellent job as hosts.
The menu caught my attention and the food was great – catfish, shrimp, hush puppies, spaghetti, cole slaw, corn on the cob and dessert.
But the main reason we were all there was to learn more about the prison itself.
“We don’t want to be like an island,” Streeter said, where no one knows what’s going on.”
First and foremost, MCCF recently received its third consecutive 100 on accreditation. The audits are conducted every three years.
“We’re very proud,” the warden said. “It’s not easy to get 100s.”
Streeter paid tribute to the late Dr. W.A. McMillan, a regular attendee at the meetings. He was killed in a car accident in March of this year.
“Last year, Dr. McMillan talked about how pleased he was to have the prison in the community and that he did not feel that way initially (when it was built),” Streeter said.
MCCF houses almost 1,000 offenders. Streeter said it is the job of the prison staff to keep the inmates behind bars but also prepare them for their release.
He said some 650,000 are released from state and federal prisons yearly and back on doorsteps. He said 50 percent of those find their way back to the courtroom.
“What are we doing here (at MCCF) to help prevent such statistics?” he asked.
Streeter said the local facility conducts skills programs, GED classes, Bible education and computer training, just to name a few.
“We like to think we’re preparing inmates here for their release,” he said. “We have challenges, too.”
He encouraged community support of the correctional facility’s efforts.
“The community needs to change its mindset,” Streeter said. “The community needs to involve itself more in the post-release program. If law-abiding citizens don’t embrace these individuals, who will? It will be the less desirable members of the community.
“Sure, we have problems in correctional facilities, and community involvement is a big key.”
As far as security, Streeter said contraband is still a problem, particularly cell phones.
“Phones are a big business in prisons,” he said. “We put up a third fence – the problem got so great. Individuals were coming out of the woods throwing contraband over the fence.
“Our job is to keep these individuals behind the fences and the walls. And keeping out contraband could easily prevent that.”
The prison is one of the county’s biggest employers – more than 200 jobs – and MCCF sponsors scholarships for high school seniors and other community projects.
“Our existence adds to the health of this community,” Streeter said.
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