On Tuesday night, the Bonne Terre Planning and Zoning Committee heard a presentation from Xcell Prison Health on plans for a halfway house at the old muffler shop on Benham Street.
Xcell Prison Health President of Long Term Psychiatric Management Dr. Junaid Syed said his company is applying for a halfway house project. He added it is a big project and right now there is one in Farmington.
“They have a project like this and it’s up for bid, so my company is bidding for the project and we wanted to bring it to the city of Bonne Terre,” said Syed. “It’s a great project and my experience is with psychiatric patients and a lot of people in prison have psychiatric problems.”
Syed said he was a chief psychiatrist for St. Louis County Prison when he started his profession and learned that because of their psychiatric problems they are re-incarcerated because there is no help.
“I thought if I am going to be involved, I will make a difference in the lives of these people,” said Syed. “The reason I picked this county is because you already have a prison here and this will bring 15 more jobs in to the area.”
Syed said they are going to invest $2.5 million and it will be a 10-year project and the city will benefit through taxes.
Committee Member Leroy Calvert asked where the city was going to get taxes from and Committee Chairman Leroy Mauler explained that the city was unique and doesn’t have a city property tax.
Mauler stressed the proposal letter had just been sent to Bonne Terre Police Chief Doug Calvert and that they wouldn’t be taking any action on it Tuesday.
Syed said he understood and if the committee had any questions, he wanted to answer them. He added he was told by the city to come in and introduce himself.
Committee Member Erik Schonhardt, who is also a council member, asked Syed if his company owned any other halfway houses.
“This would be our first, but I have the whole team who was running the halfway house in St. Louis,” said Syed. “They have 15 years of experience in doing this work and they are the ones who prepared the contract. I partnered with them because they knew me from the prison system and they knew working together was going to bring a change.”
Syed added he is primarily a nursing home psychiatrist and there are more than 100 nursing homes in the state of Missouri he provides services to, including ones in St. François County.
Schonhardt stressed his concern that in the letter it said there are 58 beds for men and seven beds for women, but the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) may change that if the need exceeds what is there.
“This is the maximum they have set, they say they are going to give us less, but this is the maximum amount of rooms they want,” said Syed. “That is why I have put the maximum number of beds.”
Committeeman Calvert asked if the area will be fenced in because the people are getting ready to be released from prison.
“They have completed their sentence and releasing them onto the streets doesn’t help them,” said Syed. “So we keep them for six months and we help them get a job. There are therapists and social workers there who work with those people and try to get them jobs. They help so they are able to reintegrate into society smoothly.”
Syed said they have to report and the federal government does not want them to put locks on anything. They are very strict with the rules. They have to report to their supervisors there and have to attend classes and therapy sessions.
Chief Calvert expressed his concerns about the estimated requirements of beds and the statement that they may change their original estimate. He also addressed the word usage of "inmate" in the letter.
“If I understand this letter correctly, these are still considered inmates,” said Chief Calvert. “It states inmates who are within a few months of release to a contractor operated RRC for transitional programming. These inmates have often been removed from the community for an extended periods of time.”
Syed said from his understanding from the discussion with the BOP, they will not release anybody who has not completed their sentence.
“My other question is, with all due respect, we are a very small police department and we are overtaxed now with shelters and things of that nature,” said Calvert. “We don’t work the Missouri State Prison out here. Whatever happens inside that prison, they work it.”
Calvert said if there is an issue in this facility, such as an assault, then his officers will get called in to work it.
Syed said they will have correctional officers in the building and they will take care of it.
Calvert asked if federally trained federal officers will be in the building. Syed said they are going to hire people who have experience in this, but they are not federal officers.
“I do not have the manpower for this,” stressed Calvert. “This police department has no ability whatsoever, logistically, to handle this. You are talking about 65 to 70 people into a small area. Putting my officers in that type of situation, if we have to go, how are we going to do it? If I only have two guys on the street, how can I handle it?”
Calvert said there is just no way, without adding two or three officers that they could support this type of facility safely. He said they just can’t provide them the service.
The committee asked Syed if he came in to get a feel for this before he submitted anything. He said he definitely did and if the city doesn’t want it, then it’s not going to happen.
Committee Member Greg Pope said in his personal opinion, he doesn’t think anybody will go for this project.
Mauler told Syed that he is more than welcome to go through the process and they aren’t going to dissuade him from doing that.
“It’s certainly your prerogative, but I don’t think you have any support from anyone present,” said Mauler. “I just want to set those expectations for you.”
Syed said if people don’t want it, then they don’t want it.