Cranfield Neighborhood Watch discusses vote on prison

Published 7:46 pm Friday, March 23, 2007

When it comes to a privately-owned federal prison looking to put a facility a few miles down the road, a group of Cranfield residents just want a say in the matter.

That’s why Robert Palmer and Charles Wheat are spearheading a petition to bring the issue to a vote.

By state law, the county must publish the company’s intentions to locate in the county. Residents then have 60 days to file a petition with 1,500 or 20 percent of the population, whichever is less, asking for a vote.

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Two of the nation’s largest companies, CCA and GEO, are looking at locating a low- to medium-security facility in Adams County. Representatives have said probably only one will locate here in the end.

Palmer, captain of the Cranfield-Fenwick Neighborhood Watch, announced two weeks ago he was starting just such a petition.

He and Wheat now have a little less than half the required 1,500 signatures he needs, he said Thursday.

“All this is is to get the right to vote on the situation,” Palmer said. “This is not voting for or against the prisons. It’s just to have the right to vote. We’re just trying to let the people decide.”

Palmer said he and Wheat have distributed the petitions to roughly 40 businesses around the county, and they’ve had some response, he said.

But some of the petitions have gone missing.

“Several places, they’ve disappeared,” Palmer said. “They had signatures. One business, one was taped to the counter Friday evening, and when the store owner came back Monday, it was gone.”

Palmer said he felt it was important for county residents to have a say in what might go virtually in their back yards.

“If it’s something of this magnitude, that offensive, people should have the right to vote,” he said. “It’s not like they’re building a tire plant.”

Wheat said he thought the representatives for the companies have given their potential facilities more gloss than they deserve.

“They’re just making it sound like it’s a lot better than it is,” Wheat said.

Supervisors President Darryl Grennell said Thursday he thought an election would delay CCA’s ability to construct and their interest in Adams County. CCA is also looking at locating the facility in Pike or Walthall counties.

CCA representatives have previously expressed their interest in building a facility before the GO Zone deadline to take advantage of the business benefits. They also hope to have the prison finished before they get the federal grant they expect to receive.

“I personally believe the majority of the county residents would approve CCA,” Grennell said. “CCA will probably go to another county (if it comes to an election).

“If Pike County votes in favor of it, they’re not going to wait around for Adams County to vote. An election would impede this economic endeavor for Adams County.”

Palmer brought the issue to the neighborhood watch meeting Thursday.

Adams County resident Walter Green said he would like to see the reported 300 jobs the facility might bring.

“You meant to tell me you don’t want your son coming back to town to work?” Green said. “You don’t want to see jobs?”

Palmer said he was definitely in favor of jobs coming to the county, just not the type of jobs that a correctional facility would bring.

“I hope my son has more ambition in life than to sit and watch (inmates),” Palmer said.

Supervisor Thomas “Boo” Campbell expressed his support of the facility.

“The one thing we’re trying to do is get jobs,” Campbell said.

Cranfield resident Leah Nugent asked about the possibility of prisoners escaping.

“They’re not going to try to hang around,” Campbell said. “They’re going to want to get out of town.”

Supervisor S.E. “Spanky” Felter said he wanted the voters to decide the issue.

Adams County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Chuck Latham, who was leading the meeting, said neighborhood watch meetings were not designed to be a forum for politics.

“This is a law enforcement meeting,” Latham said. “We’re not here for all this other stuff. The next time we come to a neighborhood watch, we won’t have this.”

Adams County residents have until April 24 to present a petition with the required signatures to the board of supervisors.

If they do not, the private companies are allowed to proceed with their business as planned.