Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Work-Release Center Irks Westside Residents; Neighbors Angry at State, but They Reserve Some Ire for Council's Fulwood

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Work-Release Center Irks Westside Residents; Neighbors Angry at State, but They Reserve Some Ire for Council's Fulwood

Article excerpt

Byline: JESSIE-LYNNE KERR

More than three dozen Jacksonville residents Wednesday night voiced to Florida Department of Corrections officials their anger and frustration over plans to open a second work-release center in the Paxon-Biltmore area.

The center, which will open Aug. 22 and serve 100 felons, is next to an existing work-release center for 41 federal prisoners.

The state doesn't need any permit or rezoning for the center because the vacant building at 5110 W. 12th St. opened in 1998 as a federal halfway house center. The company that operated that center for the federal prison system built a larger facility just to the south, at 2020 Dahlia Road, more than a year ago.

While the state doesn't need any permit or rezoning to move into the existing building, state law required officials to inform the community of their plans, which they did Wednesday night at the Hammond Community Center.

Ralph Malphurs, a Westside community leader and former president of the Westside Area Residents Association, said opening a second center will have a negative impact on an already struggling area.

"It is unfair to our community to have two work-release centers next to each other," Malphurs said. "We feel you want to make a work-release row on the Westside."

Noting that the center is a done deal, Malphurs added, "The decision has been made and you can't be stopped, so we are shackled in chains."

Sterling Staggers, an official with Bridges of America, a private vendor that will operate the center under contract with the state, urged the hostile audience to "give us a chance and your comfort level will increase. These prisoners are coming back into your community anyway, and we are trying to get them back with jobs and ties to the community."

Corrections officials said earlier that city officials had been notified of their plans. But City Councilman Reggie Fullwood, who represents the area, said last month he didn't know of plans to open the second center until contacted by a reporter.

"Maybe they contacted the Sheriff's Office about this, but they didn't contact me," Fullwood told the Times-Union in June. …

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