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Friday, November 28, 2008

Marianna FCI Is Scheduled to House Additional Sexual Offenders

By Sid Riley

Part of federal prison approach to improve treatment programs

Several weeks ago I was informed by several concerned citizens that plans were underway to make the Marianna FCI one of the primary prisons within the Federal system for the housing and treatment of sexual offenders. The citizens were concerned over the possibility this change might lead to a greater number of these former prisoners remaining in Jackson County upon release. In response to their calls I embarked on an investigation of what implications this program could have for our community in coming years.

I first contacted Charlie Brown and Byron Ward, both of whom serve on the Community Relations Committee which coordinates with the Marianna FCI officials through monthly meetings. They both informed me that the rumor was true, there were plans to increase the percentage of sexual offenders housed within the existing capacity of the prison. Charlie requested I not write a story on this matter until I had first met with the new warden, and had received a full briefing on the issues relating to these changes at FCI.

On Thursday, November 20, Charlie Brown and I met with Warden Eichenlaub and Jennifer Saad of his staff at his office within FCI and confronted him with the concerns of our community. I found him to be completely open and candid in his answers, and left the meeting feeling much better about the matter. The text of that session is presented below:

Riley: "Warden Eichenlaub, is it true that the federal prison system has decided to concentrate incarcerated sexual offenders into selected prisons to enable better treatment programs for them and to reduce potential problems of having them mixed within the prison populations at numerous sites"

Warden: "Yes, we are a selected site for increased housing of sexual offenders. At present there are 180 such offenders in our population, and we are slated to increase that number to around 450."

Riley: "About what percentage of the total population will that be?"

Warden: "At present our population consists of approximately 280 at our women’s unit, 75 in our special security area, and 1180 in the general medium security population. This creates a total of approximately 1535. With 450 sexual offenders within the medium security unit, they would constitute about 40% of the total for that unit."

Riley: "The primary cause for concern in our community is the potential for a percentage of these offenders to remain in our area upon release, and over the years this number would accumulate and thus result in our community containing a disproportionately high number of individuals who were prior convicts with a history of sexual problems."

Warden: "I can understand your concern. However, we are required to release them in the area where they were convicted, and their follow up parole period is set up under the parole programs in that area. Thus, the opportunity for them to come back to this area after release is very, very remote. In fact, we have researched the matter, and we can find only one or two instances from the entire population here since the prison started, where the inmate remained in this area after release. Because of this, I feel that no problem exists for the Jackson County community from any prisoners being released after completion of their terms here."

Riley: "That makes me feel much better about the issue. Now, how can this be monitored by the community in coming years?"

Warden: "Whenever a prisoner is released into a community, we are required to notify all significant law enforcement agencies in the area of our action. Thus, if we were ever to release a sexual offender into this community, and I doubt any frequency of that occurring, we would notify the municipal police chief, and the local sheriff."

Riley: "I thank you for your time and your direct answers to my questions."

Warden: "We are always sensitive to the attitudes and needs of the community. Please feel free to contact me if you ever have any questions relating to anything involving Marianna FCI."

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