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Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

Area prison celebrates five-year anniversary

Friday, September 29, 2006

(Photo)
A member of the Charleston High School jazz band plays the saxophone during the anniversary celebration of SECC
(Photo by Leonna Heuring, Staff)
CHARLESTON -- Five years after its doors opened, the Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston is still doing exactly what it was built to do -- rehabilitate offenders and drive the local economy.

A celebration in honor of the center's five-year anniversary was held Thursday afternoon in the Charleston prison's gymnasium.

Steve Henson, plant maintenance engineer, was one of several SECC employees present for the celebration. He has worked for the state Department of Corrections for 27 years and has worked at SECC since day one.

"It's really been an interesting experience," Henson said. "Starting a new prison is so much different because everything is new."

Charleston High School Junior ROTC presented and retired colors while the high school's jazz band provided music for the occasion.

On hand for the event was Betty C. Hearnes, who from the very beginning lobbied for the prison with her husband and former Missouri governor, Warren E. Hearnes.

"I'm very pleased with the development of the prison and the way it has been operating. It's helped all of Southeast Missouri," Hearnes said.

Hearnes said Jan. 13, 2007, will mark 10 years ago that she started her work to bring a prison to Charleston, she said. During that time, Hearnes said she made countless trips and phone calls to Jefferson City to talk to then-Gov. Mel Carnahan and committee members about bringing a prison to Charleston.

But the 10 years of work was well worth it, Hearnes said.

"Charleston needed industry and jobs. Mississippi County needed industry. Southeast Missouri needed industry. And Missouri needed us," Hearnes said.

State Rep. Lanie Black told the crowd of prison employees, community members and state officials if it weren't for Hearnes, they wouldn't be sitting there. He then praised the institution.

"The prison has made a significant difference in the county, Charleston and East Prairie," Black said.

The prison has created good jobs for residents, which means better health care and living, Black said. "It's very well maintained, and the staff is doing a good job."

Black said he can't wait to see what a difference the prison makes in the community 20 to 25 years from now.

"SECC opened its doors Sept. 21, 2001, and since that time, the operation has been very beneficial for both the Department of Corrections and local economy," said Terry Moore, director the Division of Adult Institutions for the state Department of Corrections in Jefferson City.

SECC employs 450 people and has an annual budget of $14.2 million, Moore said.

"And all of that feeds the local economy of the surrounding area," Moore said about the budget.

A lot of goods purchased for the prison are made in the community and employees' salaries go to local families, Moore said.

Moore said the goal of a corrections center is to prepare offenders for their eventual return to society as productive, law abiding citizens, Moore said.

Currently the state has several programs in place to help offenders do this, he said.

In the near future, a furniture factory will be added to the Charleston institution, Moore noted. The factory will employ 120 inmates who will make wood office and wood college dorm furniture, said Daniel Smith, SECC factory director, adding it will also employ six civilians.

SECC superintendent Troy Steele estimated 85 percent of the institution's employees live somewhere in the area.

"We've succeeded in exactly what this institution was meant for," Steele said. Today, SECC is still operating off its slogan, "Maximum Security, Maximum Effort," Steele said. "We put out maximum effort every day and hold together."