(Scott Welton, Staff)
While there were others who worked toward getting Charleston selected as the site for a new prison, the SECC would not be where it is today without former state Rep. Betty Hearnes, according to George A. Lombardi, director of the DOC.
The SECC is celebrating 10 years, "but it's 15 years for me," Hearnes said. "I worked for five years before they ever got started. There was a lot to be done -- and we had some hitches along the way."
It was during the 1997 inauguration of Mel Carnahan to his second term as governor that Hearnes found out about plans for two new maximum security prisons to be built.
Licking had already been designated as the site for one but the other was up for grabs. She started her work to bring the prison to Mississippi County that very day.
"Betty was certain a prison would benefit (her) community," Lombardi said.
Lombardi said that with Hearnes having served for eight years on the state legislature's joint committee on corrections, four of which were as the chair, she started out with some valuable knowledge which she built on by researching procedures, gathering information and making frequent trips to Jefferson City to lobby in person "leaving no stones unturned."
Hearnes said the county's Industrial Development Board had unsuccessfully tried to get Tyson Chicken to locate in the county and was determined to fight even harder for the prison.
"This county had to have some jobs," Hearnes said. "We had to do something for Mississippi County."
The "time, sweat and effort" all paid off, though, and has benefitted not only Charleston and Mississippi County, but all of Southeast Missouri as well, Hearnes said.
"We're not that only county that has people (working) here," she said, noting that the SECC employs residents of New Madrid, Scott, Cape Girardeau and Stoddard counties as well as about 100 Mississippi County residents.
Also speaking during the celebration were DOC officials including the prison's current warden, Jeff Norman.
"It doesn't seem like it's been 10 years," Norman said.
Lombardi recalled several "landmark moments" in the DOC's history.
In October 2001, the facility began housing lower security inmates to check systems before bringing in more dangerous offenders, he said.
In 2002, the prison established a restorative justice garden which produces an annual average of 10,000 pounds of produce donated to area food pantries.
The most dangerous inmates, Level 5 offenders, were brought in to the SECC beginning in October 2003 with the facility reaching 1,500 inmates by November 2003.
He said the spring flooding this year brought yet another challenge as well as another opportunity for SECC to show it could be "a resource to help the community" by filling sand bags to assist with flood control.
The SECC is "one of the finest maximum security prisons," Lombardi said. "You are second to none."
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