Corrections official rejects council’s zoning resolution

Arkansas Board of Corrections Chairman Benny Magness said Wednesday that the panel doesn’t require zoning approval from the Pine Bluff Planning Commission to open a halfway house complex for 32 parolees on existing state Department of Community Corrections property here.

Magness, a Mountain Home businessman, said the institution of the complex – slated to possibly host violent and sexual offenders that may not be able to be placed elsewhere – represents nothing more than a “missions change” at 7301 W. 13th Ave., where the Southeast Arkansas Community Corrections Center is located.

“The site is used for correctional purposes now and that fact wouldn’t change because some particulars might,” said Magness. “And we’re not likely to put only violent and sexual offenders there.”

The work-release parolees would be in public jobs outside the prison.

With opposition to the state plans mounting among private citizens and local elected officials, the Pine Bluff City Council voted unanimously Monday night to ask the state to obtain city planning commission approval before proceeding on the matter.

The corrections department is denying the request, dismissing it as a moot point. Magness said the state isn’t required to receive local endorsements on usages of state properties.

City council members stated concerns Monday night.

“I hope that we can do something to prevent this from happening,” said Alderman Glen Brown. “I think we have enough parolees that are dumped into our area anyway, and regular civilians are having problems finding jobs.”

Alderman Bill Brumett believes the state should have to abide by procedures required of other entities that might desire to open a halfway house here.

“I feel like they’re kind of thumbing their noses at us in a way, that they’re going to do it anyway,” said Brumett.

Alderwoman Thelma Walker said the state was showing “disrepect” to Pine Bluff citizens by disregarding the council’s wishes.

In the resolution outlining the council request, the city attorney was charged with seeking “legal redress” if the state didn’t “comply.” Prison officials met with citizens here publicly last week to respond to concerns about the halfway house, and Magness said he intends to continue “to listen to the community.”

“The state Department of Correction has had a long and proud relationship with the City of Pine Bluff,” said Magness. “Some years back we worked with the city on its annexation of the prison property there, to benefit the city.

“We want that partnership to continue.”

A Commercial check of a national registry made Wednesday indicates there are 46 registered sex offenders currently residing within the 71603 zip code area in which the prison property is located.