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Last two housing units of Bonne Terre prison open
Daily Journal file photo by Teresa Ressel The last two housing units have opened at the Bonne Terre prison. The prison superintendent had initially expected to open the last housing unit in June just before the end of the state's fiscal year.

BONNE TERRE - The Eastern Reception Diagnostic Correctional Center has opened its last two housing units.

Superintendent Jim Purkett said they opened one housing unit last week and the other housing unit on Monday. He had initially expected to open the last housing unit in June just before the end of the state's fiscal year.

Purkett said those two housing units haven't filled up much yet but things are going well. He said the rest of the housing units are pretty much full.

Purkett said they haven't filled all of the staff positions yet. They are waiting for the positions to be approved in Jefferson City.

The prison houses 1,062 inmates and employs 798 staff.

Purkett said he is not sure how long it will be before they are at full capacity. He estimates it will probably be at least six months.

The first general population housing unit opened in May. There are 11 housing units at the prison that together have the capacity to house as many as 1,864 high, medium and maximum security inmates.

The reception and diagnostic component of the prison can house about 820 new arrivals to the Missouri Department of Corrections. The reception and diagnostic center is the central intake facility for all male offenders sentenced by the courts of eastern Missouri.

The cook chill has been fully operational since the prison opened.

The $168 million prison was approved by the general assembly during the 1996 legislative session. Plans for the building were put on hold due to lawsuits and state budget problems.

Bonne Terre officials have attributed some of the city's financial struggles to the delay of the prison opening.

However, things are starting to get better for the city. Bonne Terre finished fiscal year 2003 with a $90,700 surplus and was able to give employees a small raise this year. Over the past couple years, officials have put off filling empty positions and have cut expenses.

One of the major goals for 2004 was to update the census to get the prison population counted in the city's population. They had hoped this would almost double the population and make additional funding available to the city through the Missouri motor vehicle tax and through additional funding available through the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) for cities with populations greater than 5,000.

But City Manager Larry Hughes was recently discouraged when he found out the MoDOT money may not be available to the cities next year because of state financial problems.

He also learned through the Missouri Department of Revenue that the state only looks at the regular decennial census for the fuel tax. He said they would only count the people that were there in 2000 because the prisoners there now were already counted somewhere else.

Hughes has estimated if they could count the inmates, the city could receive $65,000 more a year through the fuel tax and $30,000 more a year through MoDOT. Hughes said that money would have been used for street improvements.

In a recent meeting, a couple council members pointed out they already would be getting that money if it wasn't for the lawsuit that was filed to try to stop the prison from coming to Bonne Terre.

On Wednesday, Hughes said he is still looking at doing another census. He said it will be worth doing if MoDOT does continue their program.

He said he still needs to find out how much it would cost to do the census and what some of the other benefits would be. It could still be worth it if the census impacts other things like average income, especially if it makes the city eligible for more grants.

The city has been able to use some of the prison's work-release inmates to do work around the city.

Purkett said workers are being used in Bonne Terre and Potosi. They are working on putting together a MoDOT crew.

Purkett said so far they have not had any problems with the work-release program.

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