Pubdate: Thu, 04 Sep 2003
Source: Sun News (Myrtle Beach, SC)
Copyright: 2003 Sun Publishing Co.
Note: apparent 150 word limit on LTEs
Author: Jeffrey Collins
Bookmark: (Incarceration)
Bookmark: (Racial Issues)
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)


Some Say Reason For Prison Plan Is 'Horrendous'

SALTERS (AP) -- Officials in struggling Williamsburg County see the new 
federal prison rising behind the pines along a lonely two-lane highway as 
the answer to the high unemployment level.

But some black leaders wonder whether a county that is more than two-thirds 
black should tie its future to a system that locks up so many members of 
their race.

The $110 million medium-security prison will hold about 1,150 inmates and 
is scheduled to open at the end of the year. It will bring more than 380 
jobs, most of them paying well more than double the county's average 
personal income of $12,794, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons.

But the prison "brings in jobs for a horrendous reason," said the Rev. Joe 
Darby, first vice president of the S.C. chapter of the National Association 
for the Advancement of Colored People. "Some used to argue slavery was good 
for the economy, but it was bad for the slaves."

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, an S.C. native, likens building a prison in the 
county to bringing in an industry that pollutes.

"We need to solve the problem of lack of education, and we are not going to 
solve it by incarcerating nonviolent drug offenders," Jackson said, echoing 
arguments that have come up in other places around the country where new 
prisons have been built.

The civil rights activist attacked what he called the "prison-industrial 
complex" in a series of speeches across South Carolina earlier this year. 
Jackson said he would rather see the government put the money into 
developing industry.

The Urban League has not taken a stand against the prison.

James T. McLawhorn Jr., president of the Columbia chapter, said the push 
for reform of the criminal justice system will have to take place somewhere 
else. "You can't fight that on the front of Williamsburg County," he said.

Similarly, the state NAACP has not officially taken a position on the 
project. "If I was living in Williamsburg County and I was unemployed, I'd 
certainly be asking for a job there," Darby said.

Williamsburg County Supervisor Richard Treme said the economic effects of 
the prison will extend well beyond the 10-foot fence topped with barbed wire.

The prison may make the poor, rural area more attractive to industry, 
because the county built a wastewater treatment plant, a 240-foot water 
tower and more water lines to accommodate the prison, he said.

"Even if all these workers left right now and nothing else was done on this 
site, we've still gained a lot with this project," Treme said.

In Williamsburg County, one-third of all households make less than $15,000 
a year, and the unemployment rate stood at 18.7 percent in July.

Textile mill jobs have all but disappeared, and a latex glove manufacturer 
that employed thousands for decades closed eight years ago. Unemployment 
soars in the winter, when hotel, restaurant and golf course jobs dry up in 
Myrtle Beach, 70 miles away.

So plenty of black people who live and work in the county accept the more 
pragmatic, economic arguments about jobs and nice salaries.

"Bring the jobs here," said Linda Nelson, as she sat in a coin-operated 
laundry in Greeleyville about six miles from the new prison. "If you have a 
job, you can stay out of trouble and stay out of jail."
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