February 21, 2006: Sometimes life reads like Jim Thompson wrote it. On February 6th
in the small (pop. 4,287) town of Lonoke, Arkansas, Mayor Thomas
Privett was arrested. Along with Police Chief Ronald Jay Campbell
and his wife Kelly. The Campbells face the more serious charges.
Chief Campbell has allegedly been brewing up methamphetamine and
doing a little residential burglary. His wife is also alleged to
have been committing burglaries. When actually invited into homes, Kelly Campbell had a Bermuda Triangle effect:
prescription painkillers and jewelry disappeared. In between
calling on friends and neighbors, Mrs. Campbell reportedly
spent quality time with prisoners from the Lonoke County jail.
Supplying them with booze, drugs and her own sweet self. Inmates
favored by Mrs. C. could leave the jail whenever she pleased.
Security cameras might have caught the comings and goings (or
lack thereof) but alas, a freak lighting strike wiped the tapes.
Sheriff Campbell and Mayor Privett also used prisoners for
private purposes. Albeit more prosaic ones. The sheriff had his
boat worked on and a walkway installed to the family swimming
pool. The mayor got his porch and air conditioner repaired, his
garden tended, and his Christmas lights hung.
The prisoners who served as chore boys were state prison
inmates. Placed in the Lonoke County Jail under Arkansas' Act 309 program. The intent of 309 is to reduce prison crowding at state
levels and provide cities and counties with free labor for tasks
categorized as either "309 In-Jail" or "309 Work". The former
jobs are to be done within jail premises, the latter can involve
other public properties and projects. Counties and cities that
accept 309 inmates receive stipends for their upkeep. Lonoke
County Jail had five such inmates and received 75 dollars a day
(15 dollars per head) for upkeep.
By Arkansas law* cities and counties are responsible for making
sure 309 inmates aren't used "to provide personal services for
private benefits". Nor can 309 inmates be used "to replace city,
county, state or federal employees". Both stipulations have holes
big enough to drive a truck load of slave labor through.
How likely is it that officials in cities and counties will
report 309 abuses? Did Mayor Privett or Sheriff Campbell drop a
dime on themselves? And even non corrupt officials are loathe to
rock the boat of any state or federal program that provides local
funding and/or reduces property taxes. Besides, little dictators
in small ponds can be nasty. For instance, Sheriff Campbell had
a rep for coercion in a prior law enforcement job in another
county and some of his current charges involve setting
someone up for a drug bust.
Then there's the proviso that 309 inmates not replace city,
county, state or federal workers. Let's see-- if prisoners
don't maintain jails, repair official vehicles, clean parks
and sidewalks, remove hazardous environmental materials such
as asbestos from public buildings, etc. who would? Try paid
employees. Receiving market wages.
Proponents of all prison labor programs, including not just the
309 ones which supply workers for public facilities in cities
and counties in various states, but the federal Prison Industry
Enhancement (PIE) programs servicing private industries across
the nation, claim such programs don't take jobs away from other
workers. Or encourage employers to rely on subsidized or cheap
forced labor rather than employees free to bargain, either singly
or collectively, for wages and benefits. Maybe so. And maybe
human nature has been struck by the same bolt of lightening that
wiped out the surveillance tapes at the Lonoke County Jail. Also
consider that the majority of prison inmates are high school drop
outs. And that the types of jobs inmates perform via 309 or PIE
programs are typically manual labor or entry level manufacturing
and office jobs. The same kind of jobs which can give potentially
prison bound high school dropouts a proactive lift into another
way of life.
Incidentally, telemarketing is among the office work PIE
inmates sometimes handle for private industry. So next time
a telemarketer asks for credit card info it might be wise to
inquire if they're currently attending crime school. PIE inmates
have also manned telephones for companies handling political
campaigns. No big surprise there.
In Lonoke, the investigation into misuse of the Act 309 inmates
began with the Arkansas Corrections Department then moved into
the realm of the state police. The case against Mayor Thomas
Privett will be prosecuted by the county prosecutor. The mayor
sez the prosecutor is a political enemy out to get him. Despite
the scandal Privett refuses to resign. No one can make him. The
narcotics, burglary and conspiracy related charges facing now X
Sheriff Campbell are felonies, but Mayor Privett is merely
charged with a misdemeanor having to do with improperly using
prisoners. Only a felony charge would make his resignation
mandatory. Unless an indictment upgrade is made, the citizens
of Lonoke are stuck with their Privett as is.
Blaming "enemies" and not resigning when poop hits the fan is a
trend among sullied pols. Back in the day they headed for the
hills. Now they cling like stubborn stains as their attorneys
issue statements how their clients welcome the opportunity to
clear their names. While using every legal dodge possible to keep
their clients from getting the opportunity to clear their names.
If the scandal is about sex or substance abuse rather than say,
graft, pols turn teary. Even ones who eat nails for breakfast go
on TV and talk of childhood trauma and inner demons. While their
flaks chat with pundits and define political maturity as the
public not expecting leaders in the halls of power to behave any
better than Joe Blow in the Happy Valley Trailer Park.
Another trend. Slaves and serfs. Not only prison inmates need
apply. Check the urban scene. Where public officials and non profit profiteers increasingly use the homeless and rehab
facility residents as low or no paid labor. Guaranteed 100% union
free. Workers dependent for the very roofs over their heads are
in no position to bargain. As tenant farmers in upstate New York
in the 19th century realized. Eventually said farmers launched
the Rent Wars and tossed out the patroons who ruled their world.
Yet traditions die hard. To this day some folks look back with
nostalgia at serfdom. Hoping for its regional renaissance via
government use of eminent domain in support of private
developers. Aka real estate negotiation at gunpoint.
Hey-- did you hear the latest gun funny from the Park South
neighborhood in the upstate city of Albany, New York? The low
income nabe's most recent redevelopers, Winn Development of
Boston, say they won't use eminent domain to seize private
property except in "unusual cases where a strategic parcel cannot
be obtained".** Whew. Local opponents of eminent domain in the
service of private developers can rest easy. When faced with
the specter of challenging local pols in local courts, plus the
cost of doing so, refusal to sell is indeed unusual.
Talking northeast, recent municipal corruption cases in
Springfield, Massachusetts have included charges that certain
public officials treated homeless shelter residents and welfare
recipients enrolled in job training programs like the 309 inmates
of Lonoke, Arkansas. As in-- a source for free labor and sex.
Though the latter was doubtless the fault of the comely homeless
and cunning welfare wenches. Who led susceptible public servants
astray in order to gain cubbies or HUD subsidies. Actually,
all sorts of people receiving help from the U.S. Department of
Housing and Urban Development (HUD) via local officials and non profit agencies can get the shaft. Including those who sign on
for home purchase and rehab assistance from the agency's Community
Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.
The Owls Are Not What They Seem
Rio Dell in Humboldt County, California is a beautiful small
town. In the northern section of the state, amidst redwood
forests and framed by mountains, Rio Dell resembles the
town of Twin Peaks in the uncanny TV series of the same name.
Residents Steve and Sharon Wolfe have found Rio Dell to be just
as strange as Twin Peaks. Though for non supernatural reasons.
A few years ago the Wolfe family moved to California from Oregon.
They bought their first house in Rio Dell. With assistance from
CDBG's First Time Home Buyer and Housing Rehabilitation program,
as delivered by Rio Dell public officials and the Redwood
Community Action Agency (RCAA). Humboldt County's most powerful
and ubiquitous non profit agency. The weirdness began
To be continued in Part Two.
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
"This is a tragic endeavor to disrupt the mayor and city council
in their efforts to complete the important functions of
Mayor Thomas Privett, Lonoke, Arkansas 02/15/06
"Get it get it get it (whoooooah) get it get it get it (ooohhhh)"
Britney Spears, I'm A Slave 4 U, Chad Hugo, Pharrell
*Administrative Regulations, State of Arkansas Board of
Corrections, Inmates Housed in County Jails and City Jails
(Act 309) 06/27/97
**"Park South vision built on a massive scale," Brian Nearing,
Albany Times Union, 02/08/06
"Police chief quits; Search for replacement begins," Ed Galucki,
The Lonoke Democrat, 02/15/06
"Police Chief, his wife, mayor in Lonoke, 2 others charged,"
Charles Frago, Arkansas Democrat & Gazette, 02/07/06
"Mayor, police chief and wife arrested; freed on bond," Ed Galucki,
The Lonoke Democrat, 02/08/06
"No wonder Lonoke jail so popular," Garrick Feldman, The Leader, Covering Lonoke, White and Pulaski Counties, 02/08/06
"Suspension of prisoner program to continue," Ed Galucki, The Lonoke Democrat, 11/09/05
Administrative Regulations, State of Arkansas Board of Corrections, Inmates Housed in County Jails and City Jails
(Act 309) 06/27/97
Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP), U.S.
Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs
Prison Labor: Some Facts and Issues, Karen Miller, 2000,
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