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Tuesday, Sep. 23, 2014

Officials open newest prison

Monday, September 24, 2001

CHARLESTON - Local and state dignitaries including Gov. Bob Holden and former Gov. Warren Hearnes gathered in the Southeast Correctional Center gymnasium for the facility's dedication ceremony Friday.

During his address, Gov. Holden listed some of the recent factory closings in Charleston and said that while 445 jobs and a payroll of $11.5 million can make a difference anywhere, "it makes a big difference in Charleston and Mississippi County."

Donna Y. McCondichie, SECC superintendent, credited the Mississippi County Industrial Development Authority and its chairperson, former Gov. Hearnes' wife Betty Hearnes, with making the SECC come to pass. Also she noted the support of the IDA, the Charleston city administrator and mayor, and State Rep. Lanie Black.

McCondichie closed by stating the importance of effective communications, education and the sharing of ideas that enhance working solutions as well as teamwork. "Hence our motto, 'Maximum Security - Maximum Effort," said McCondichie.

IDA member Betty Hearnes said it has been four years and nine months since she found out two prisons were slated to be built in Missouri.

She said IDA board member Liz Anderson was "an ally" in her effort to get the prison built in Charleston as well as noting the efforts of both current and former state legislators.

Funding for the $72 million SECC was approved during the 1997 legislative session.

Black predicted it would be 40 or 50 years till area residents really understand the effect the prison will have on the county and "what a significant event this was in our history."

State Sen. Peter Kinder said he has "never seen a bipartisan effort ... to exceed this one" in all his years as a state legislator.

Gary B. Kempker, director of the Missouri Department of Corrections, said the cooperation between local efforts and state government to bring about the SECC serves as an example of how Missouri works toward the common interest.

The increased number of beds available to the DOC "makes our local communities in this state a safer place," said Kempker.

Kempker stated the DOC's goal of being "good neighbors," giving as example the $11,000 raised by Missouri DOC inmates over the last 10 days to help victims of the recent terrorist attacks.

The SECC staff was described by Kempker as being "enthusiastic and ready to go to work."

Following the ceremony, dignitaries were escorted by SECC staff on tours of the facility, which consists of 10 buildings including six housing units and an administration building.

Tim Kniest, public information officer for the DOC, said there are four wings to each housing unit, each of which can be viewed from a central control center. "Your sight lines are so much better," said Kniest pointing out that the triangular wing shapes allow for a clear view of each cell unlike previous linear design facilities.

Each wing features two American Disabilities Act accessible cells with stainless steel sinks and commodes, handrails and wider doors located near ADA accessible showers.

Inmates are classified by their aggressive behavior by the DOC and will be housed at the SECC based on that classification. Additionally, inmates are subject to "administrative segregation" for violating prison rules, said Kniest.

Specialized areas of the prison include the medical and mental health care units, administrative segregation housing, basic academic and vocational classrooms, a laundry and central food service.

The SECC shares the same design as the Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron and the South Central Correctional Center in Licking including a triple security fence system with a lethal electrified center fence.

Kniest said this new type of prison design had one inmate escape briefly by walking out the front door with assistance from a staff member, but the three fence barrier system has never been breached for an escape so far.

Laura Vance, assistant superintendent for the SECC, said the prison's staff expects to get the first batch of about 40 low security prisoners sometime in mid-October, although it will be "maybe up to year" before they will get any maximum security inmates.

Presently the SECC has about 100 staff "on line," according to Vance, and will get another 60 Oct. 1. Both the number of staff and the number of inmates will increase over time.

Tours for the public will continue today until 5 p.m.