Small and close — and already overburdened
The former Chemco factory, proposed as the site for the Liberty Mill Justice Center.

Small and close — and already overburdened

Is Bellows Falls the sort of town to shoulder four counties’ worth of offenders?

BELLOWS FALLS — I write to express my utter dismay at the Letter of Support for Windham County Sheriff's application submitted to the USDA Rural Community Development Initiative Grant Program.

Despite the lofty scope of this project as it seeks funding, it is a social experiment being forced upon the already overburdened and struggling community of Bellows Falls.

The USDA has chosen to designate our community as “high-poverty” and a “USDA's FY15 Opportunity Community” without fully understanding what a prison - euphemistically titled “justice center” - would do to our quiet and proud, albeit challenged, village of 3,200 residents, all existing in 1.4 square miles.

Bellows Falls currently supports and cares for its mentally ill and residentially challenged citizens. Despite our burdens, our children walk safely to and from school, and our elderly and handicapped proceed unmolested along our streets.

We are small and we are close. We are a heavily residential village standing strong against the shadow of drug abuse and homelessness.

Is ours the sort of hometown you would ask to shoulder four counties' worth of pre-trial, pre-sentencing and transitional offenders? Not to mention their families, their difficulties, their struggles?

In addition, we have been told that 75 federal prisoners/detainees will be housed in this facility, as stated recently by the sheriff in the media. We are charitable people here in Bellows Falls, but we must strive first to provide for our own downtrodden. How would burying us further in free-moving and electronically monitored individuals accomplish a rehabilitation of our community?

The proposed upside for Bellows Falls? The odious benefit of a walking-distance prison and social programs - a one-stop shop, if you will - plus 40 to 60 jobs, jobs that may or may not extend beyond the construction phase, may or may not be filled exclusively by Bellows Falls residents.

The same number of jobs could be accessed by potential employees from another safer, lower residential location within Windham County.

There are many social service organizations already in Bellows Falls, without the addition of an all-in-one service facility.

There is no guarantee of benefit from these programs. We have no equivalent exchange for what we and our future will be subjected to with this project.

* * *

A number of state departments and others are listed as having given support, but only some of those letters of support have actually materialized.

What is more important is that none of the supporters - not even the authors of the Liberty Mill Justice Center plan - cared to engage the target community, Bellows Falls, for its support.

Some may feel it is not necessary to engender buy-in from the residents who might have to live with the decisions made here, but that apathy sets the stage for further disintegration of neighborhoods, communities, housing, and faith in local and federal government. The disconnect grows ever wider as elected officials fail to heed the concerns of the citizens they claim to protect.

In grave sincerity, I plead you to reconsider the choices you are making for Bellows Falls and her citizens. Please rescind your support for this project in our hometown.

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