Tuesday December 10, 1985

Cedar Valley times,
Tuesday December 10, 1985

Legislative study: no separate facility for drunk drivers

Fight for Braille school wins state decision, but battle not over


Times Editor

VINTON — An interim legislative committee recommended Monday that the state bolster substance abuse programs in Iowa's existing prison system rather than establishing a separate facility for convicted drunk drivers.

     The recommendation is being seen locally as a blow to Gov. Terry Branstad's proposal to merge the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School with the Iowa School for the Deaf in Council Bluffs. The governor has suggested the two schools be combined under one roof in Council Bluffs, with the Braille school facility in Vinton serving as a facility for convicted drunk drivers.

     The committee's decision followed lengthy discussion of the lack of adequate treatment for drunk drivers serving time in the state's prisons.

     Hal Farrier, director of the state Department of Corrections, said the Braille school is a "very nice facility. You almost get the impression it’s too nice to put our inmates there. The Braille school is equipped with a swimming pool, a gymnasium, a track, and a two-lane bowling alley.

     Farrier, who recently toured the Braille school with E Wayne Richey, executive secretary of the State Board of Regents, estimated that $2 3 million a year would be needed to operate the Vinton school as a prison. The estimate would cover the annual operating costs fur 200 prisoners.

     Farrier cited the urban setting of the Braille school and a weakness in the Vinton economy as problems with locating a facility for convicted drunk drivers at the Vinton facility.

     Noting that the Braille school was surrounded by homes on three sides. Farrier said, "Without a doubt those people are concerned, and I would be concerned and so would you if you lived there."

     Admitting that prison system officials had not explored the issue in detail, Farrier said the lack of work available for inmates in the Vinton area is a major weakness.

     “It (the Braille school) would be adequate for use for drunk drivers," Farrier said, but there may be better uses for this facility."

     A Vinton committee believes there are better uses for the facility as well. In fact, they believe the school is perfectly fitted for the education of the blind and multi-handicapped.

     Morris Eckhart chairman of the Vinton Save Our School committee greeted yesterday afternoons news with caution.

     It certainly helps our position, said Eckhart whose committee is fighting the governor’s proposal to move the school to Council Bluffs. “But by no means have we won the battle. I'm hearing that from a lot of people here in Vinton and from the news media, that the Braille school is going to stay here because of the legislative committee's decision. But that just isn’t true."

     Eckhart and eight other Vinton citizens will be meeting this Friday morning with Gov. Branstad to discuss his proposal. Tonight, members of the S O S committee meet at the State Bank of Vinton Community Building to develop strategy for the meeting with the governor.

     It’ll be very interesting to see what the governor says. Eckhart said I think the governor made a lot of assumptions that he shouldn’t have made before covering his bases first.

     Branstad announced Dec 8 his plan to reorganization of state government. That plan included the proposed merger of the two schools. A study of the proposed merger commissioned by Rjchey is yet to be finished. The State Board of Regents meets Dec 18 and 19 in .Ames Iowa, and is scheduled to make its recommendation on the merger to the governor.

     Vinton citizens. Eckhart said, should begin writing their letters to members of the Board of Regents. In discussion with various state officials, Eckhart said he is picking up on an apparent softening of the governors attitude on the proposed merger of the two schools. Nonetheless, Eckhart said persons concerned with the future of the Braille school should contact the Board of Regents.