Largest state prison finally opens

Thursday, February 13, 2003

Will employ 660

Business Today

BONNE TERRE -- Area residents and state officials gathered at the Eastern Reception Diagnostic Correctional Center for a long awaited ribbon-cutting ceremony Feb. 10.

The 820-bed prison will begin accepting inmates from county jails in the eastern part of the state this week. The prison plans to begin accepting permanent inmates before the end of the current fiscal year, which is June 30.

When fully operational, the prison will house 1,864 high-, medium- and maximum-security inmates and 820 new arrivals.

The $168 million Bonne Terre facility is the largest prison in the state. It is located on a 212-acre tract just east of Bonne Terre on Route K.

Gov. Bob Holden, among those attending the ribbon cutting, said he realized it has been a long wait, but the opening of the prison means Bonne Terre will garner the same benefits as other communities with prisons.

About 660 people will work at the prison. The annual payroll will be about $14 million. Holden said local stores, restaurants, motels and other area businesses will see a discernible change in commerce.

Sue Wilke, Bonne Terre City Council member, said Gary Kempker, director of the Missouri Department of Corrections, met with city and civic leaders in fall 2001 when construction of the prison was being completed. It was then that the city learned the opening of the prison would be postponed.

Holden said the state had been trying to get the prison built and operational since 1991. The prison was approved by the Legislature in 1996, although the state looked at the city as a possible site years earlier. Holden said lawsuits and budget problems were the main reasons for the delay.

The prison will reduce travel time for area sheriff's departments that previously took criminals to facilities in St. Joseph or Fulton.

Department of Corrections officials said the prison will help the department confine lawbreakers at the appropriate custody level.

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