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Facility for non-violent women proposed in Westmorland

DRUG AND ALCOHOL REHABILITATION:

January 05, 2001|By MARIO RENTERÍA, Staff Writer

WESTMORLAND — A committee selected from the community will be discussing a proposal to build a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility here for non-violent women.

Talks involving Westmorland City Councilman Henry Halcon and Mike Gaston, senior planner for The Holt Group in El Centro, started about two weeks ago regarding the possibility of establishing the facility in the city.

Halcon and Gaston think the facility could bring revenue to the city.

The facility would house 25 women who meet certain criteria, but the main one would be participants cannot be violent offenders.

The women would be referred from drug court programs across the state and possibly from Imperial County and the state Department of Corrections. Private pay clients would be accepted.

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The drug court program is for first- and second-time non-violent drug and alcohol offenders. If an individual fits the criteria, instead of going to jail or prison the person can enter the program.

The program requires participants to be treated in the facility for a time specified by their counselors or probation officers ranging from 90 days to a year.

Because the program is voluntary, individuals can leave at any time but face penalties such as being sent back to jail or prison.

If a woman finishes her rehabilitation, pending drug charges are dismissed, even felonies.

The facility would be licensed by the state Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs. It would be the second such state facility in Imperial County to be licensed, the other being the Volunteers of America center in El Centro.

The Westmorland facility would create about 10 full-time jobs: one administrator, about two counselors, one business manager, cooks, maintenance workers and possibly security guards.

Gaston said about six of those jobs would be open to local applicants only.

He also said the facility would look like a nursing home, not a prison.

"It won't have locked gates, just normal fencing around it," he said.

"We want it to blend into the community," he added.

He said the facility would cost about $2.5 million to build and if it is built the city would receive $25,000 a year in property tax revenue every year.

Halcon said those involved in the discussions already have an ideal site for the facility, about 12 acres north of the new sewer treatment plant.

Gaston said the facility would only require 2 to 3 acres but if the facility becomes a success, meaning no problems arise, it could expand to house more women.

The facility would be built and run by a private firm. All the city would do is provide the land.

Halcon said he likes the idea but wants more opinions from the committee that met Thursday in city hall. Only two people attended, Richard Marquez and John Stokely, both retired residents of Westmorland.

"I'm all for it," said Marquez.

"The city needs revenue and it would help women who want the help. It doesn't seem to present any danger to the community. I think it's better to try something than nothing," he said.

Stokely had similar sentiments but wants more information on the proposal.

"I'm still undecided but it sounds good. We need something here but I'm still not sure this is the one we need," he said.

Halcon said, "If there were any dangers to the community I would be against it, but I don't see any."

The proposal has not been before the City Council because Halcon wants to hear the community's input first.

Halcon said if at least two-thirds of the committee is in favor of the idea, he will pursue it further.

The committee will meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall. The meeting is open only to committee members.

Staff Writer Mario Rentería can be reached at 370-8549

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