Inmates helped protect area from floodingPublished 12:20am Monday, June 20, 2011
NATCHEZ — City officials thanked Warden Vance Laughlin over fried chicken and cobbler Thursday for the help inmates from Adams County Correctional Center’s lent to protect the city during the 2011 Great Mississippi River Flood.Intermediate
City Engineer David Gardner and Mayor Jake Middleton were a few of the area government leaders who attended the Corrections Corporations of America prison’s quarterly community advisory meeting at Dunleith Plantation.
Between 300 and 400 inmates from the Adams County facility volunteered in May to fill 25,000 sandbags to defend the city against floodwaters, Laughlin said.
The sandbags were used by the City of Natchez to protect the Waste Water Treatment Plant, an Entergy Substation, Silver Street Under-the Hill, the Adams County Port and J.M. Jones Lumber Company a week or two before the river crested in Natchez at a record-high of 61.9 feet.
Gardner said he originally called Laughlin for help getting in touch with Wilkinson County’s warden to use their inmates to fill sandbags, when Laughlin offered labor from his facility.
“They were (filling) them faster than we could pick them up,” Gardner said.
Laughlin said the inmates were so eager to help out the community that he joked if they were instructed to stop, the prison would have a riot on its hands.
“I was so impressed with (the prison’s) efficiency,” Gardner said. “Your generosity certainly made an impression on our staff.”
Gardner said the prisoners were filling sandbags faster than a machine that filled 1,000 in an hour could.
Middleton said he was pleased to see a private corporation cooperate with the city’s flood defense efforts.
“We’re here for the community,” Laughlin said. “We’ve got a lot of resources.”
Assistant Warden Victor Orsolits said the staff had to give the inmates very little direction, because they were so focused and eager to work on the project.
“It was amazing; the inmates were very excited about doing something for the community,” he said.
Natchez Inc. Board Chairwoman Sue Stedman, said she was impressed to hear how willing the prisoners were to help.
“That speaks volumes for the way you treat them,” Stedman said.
Laughlin forwarded much of the thanks to his staff.
“This is the best group of folks I’ve ever worked with,” he said.
At the 2,600-bed facility in Adams County, 2,525 inmates are currently being housed, according to a Thursday morning count, Laughlin said.
“Nationally, we are the fourth largest (prison) in the country,” Laughlin said of the Adams County prison.
Laughlin said 63 percent of the prison’s inmates are from Mexico, 5 percent are from Columbia, 2 percent are from Jamaica and the rest are spread out among 60 other countries.
He said the prison picks up its new inmates mostly from Alexandria, La., Houston, Texas, and sometimes Memphis, Tenn., when the prisoners are transported by U.S. Marshals to serve their sentences.
The largest age group or inmates fall between 40 to 69, the second largest group are 26 to 35, and only 181 inmates are between 18- and 25-years old, Laughlin said.
“That’s a good age group to have,” he said.
Laughlin said younger age groups tend to cause more trouble, but the disadvantage of aging populations is the cost of medical care.
The prison uses local hospitals, mostly in Natchez, Hattiesburg and Jackson for the inmates, he said.
After opening its doors in 2008, ACC is finally nearly fully staffed, and online job postings for open positions at the facility were recently removed for the first time, Laughlin said.
“We’re down to a pretty stable staff right now,” Laughlin said.
He said while turnover for staff used to be as high as 40 percent, it is currently down to 18 percent, which Laughlin said is much lower than the state average at prison facilities.
Laughlin said the number of graduates from the CCA academic education program had already exceeded the Adams County facility’s annual goal.
CCA is the nation’s largest provider of partnership corrections to federal, state and local government, operating more than 60 facilities in 19 states and the District of Columbia.