Pubdate: Tue, 08 Jul 2003
Source: Decatur Daily (AL)
Copyright: 2003 The Decatur Daily
Author: Eric Fleischauer


Parole Officials Hope To Save Some Jobs

A proposed plan for the Lurleen B. Wallace Developmental Center would 
continue its history of innovation while keeping "many" existing employees 
on the job, according to officials at the state Board of Pardons and Paroles.

The agency would need a bigger budget to operate the facility, but Cynthia 
Dillard, assistant executive director of the agency, said the program would 
more than pay for itself by reducing correctional costs.

Dillard said she believes the more important benefit would be reducing the 
social and personal cost of drug addiction. Logically and historically, 
punishing addicts without treating them is doomed to failure, Dillard said.

The core of the agency's proposal, already endorsed by Mental Health 
Commissioner Kathy Sawyer, would be intensive drug rehabilitation. The 
Parole Board as a condition of parole could order the rehab, by judges 
dealing with probation violations and by judges as an alternative to 
imprisonment after a drug offense. The level of the acceptable offense as 
far as danger to the community was not discussed in the preliminary proposal.

Dillard said the risk to the community should be minimal because "the 
people we would place there would be the people that the judges or the 
board places there. This would be controlled access if we had it. If 
(Department of Corrections) had it, it would be as secure as any prison, I 
guess," Dillard said.

Sawyer estimates as many as 600 could be housed at the Wallace Center under 
the state Board of Pardons and Parole proposal.

"This would cost less than prison, and it would be a lot more effective," 
Dillard said. "Instead of warehousing, it would be helping to change behavior."

The Wallace Center opened in 1971 with 21 buildings as a state-of-the-art 
approach to helping the mentally retarded and their families. The idea 
evolved from a disturbing tour then-Gov. Lurleen B. Wallace took of state 
facilities for the mentally retarded. During the years, it grew to a 
population of 368, a number that now stands at about 68.


The proposed "transition center" has no precedent in the state, so 
officials said they cannot determine total employment. They are even more 
at a loss when trying to estimate how many of the 272 current employees of 
the center could keep their position.

"We have assured Ms. Sawyer that we would keep on as many current employees 
as possible," Dillard said.

In addition to other services, Dillard said her agency would set up a 
community resource center similar to one operated by the agency in 
Birmingham. The agency would encourage participation by churches and other 
private organizations and would open the program to the public.

"They would have (Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous) programs, 
self-help programs, health fairs, job fairs, parenting classes and adult 
basic education classes," Dillard said. "We would use community agencies 
that normally do these things; it just gives a common site to allow people 
to meet."

Dillard indicated Pardons and Paroles is competing with the DOC for the 
159-acre Wallace Center site, but Corrections' public information officer 
was low key.

"We have some interest, but it is premature for us to make any plans," said 
Brian Corbett.

Asked if his department had made any estimates as to the number of inmates 
a converted Wallace Center could hold, Corbett said, "I have no idea. I 
haven't even looked at the place."

Moves Could Start In 2004

If Riley adopts Sawyer's proposal, the center's 68 developmentally disabled 
residents - five of whom are from Morgan County - could leave as early as 
February 2004. Twenty-four are under 10 years old. The Wallace Center's 
population has shrunk over the years largely because of increased emphasis 
upon community care. Sawyer's proposed shutdown of the facility is coupled 
with an offer to provide 24-hour in-house care.

The Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation services 11,000 
individuals in community-based programs and services. The community service 
component represents 97 percent of all served, according to Sawyer, but 
receives only 74 percent of the state's available funds.

Telling Numbers

The 24-hour care proposal would cost the state $81,000 per year. Existing 
costs per resident are about $250,000 per year, according to Sawyer.

Sawyer proposes closing the Wallace Center, the Albert Brewer Developmental 
Center in Daphne and the J.S. Tarwater Developmental Center in Wetumpka. 
The patients would be moved to the W.D. Partlow Center in Tuscaloosa, to 
group homes or back home with their families.

Sawyer said the center needs $885,395 in capital improvements during the 
next two years to continue servicing mentally retarded residents.

Pardons and Paroles could not operate the center with existing funding, 
Dillard said. She estimated the Wallace Center would cost under $20 per 
resident per day to operate. The agency supervises those on probation or 
parole at a cost of $1.25 per resident per day.

Wallace Center timeline

a.. 1971. Lurleen B. Wallace Center begins accepting clients. a.. January 
1975. A drug raid at the center results in the arrest of several employees. 
a.. February 1975. The center begins a 25-bed nursing home for the mentally 
retarded. a.. 1981. Center has 387 residents, its peak. Currently at 68. 
a.. November 1996. Center has 225 clients and 420 employees. a.. August 
1998. Kathy Sawyer, mental health director, orders center to close by Sept. 
30, 1999. a.. January 1999. Sawyer rescinds 1998 decision to close center. 
a.. May 1999. Wallace Center down to 174 residents. a.. June 1999. U.S. 
Supreme Court ruling forces states to put more mentally retarded patients 
in community. a.. March 2003. Gov. Bob Riley said closure of some mental 
retardation facilities likely. a.. June 2003. Mental Health Director Sawyer 
submits plan calling for closure of center. - Eric Fleischauer


* A timeline in Tuesday's DAILY about Lurleen B. Wallace Developmental 
Center should have said a 1998 attempt to close the center was led by 
then-Mental Health and Mental Retardation Commissioner Virginia Rogers 
under Gov. Fob James and not current Commissioner Kathy Sawyer.