County Planning Commission tables discussion on Stonewater expansion amid community safety concerns

Published 9:04 am Tuesday, March 1, 2022

The Lafayette County Planning Commission tabled a discussion on the Stonewater Adolescent Recovery Center’s request for expansion after several community members raised concerns about patients leaving the facility and wandering through private property.

Stonewater is one of the premiere addiction treatment centers for young adults in the Southeast, providing care and support to teenage boys struggling with addictions to drugs or alcohol.

Locals in the community are concerned with the number of patients who leave the facility without permission however, citing concerns for their safety and the safety of the patients who leave the facility and wander out into the woods or onto MS Highway 6.

“Our property joins [theirs] back-to-back. I have a four-year-old grandson there, and every time one of them escapes I have to fear for him, plus my safety, because me and him are usually there by ourselves,” said one local resident.

“We welcomed them with open arms because we heard the wonderful things they could do,” said Charles Waller, another local resident. “I believe in treatment programs but I’ve taught school for 30 years, and if I lost 10 percent of my students I wouldn’t be there. You don’t lose your students.”

Stonewater refers to cases of patients leaving the property as “elopements” and cites the dwindling number of elopements as a reason for granting their expansion request.

“While our census increased over the past three years… our elopements decreased substantially,” said Bryan Fikes, founder and CEO of the recovery center. “Since 2019 they’ve decreased by 76%… and I have no reason to believe those numbers will not continue to go down.”

Commissioners commended the declining number of elopements, but also raised concerns for both public safety and the safety of the patients who elope from the facility.

“What’s it gonna take to happen to one of these kids wandering up on the highway for everybody to go okay, we need a change,” said commissioner Jason Kent.

After much deliberation the commissioners tabled the discussion until next month’s meeting, asking Stonewater to consider building a fence around their property or create an emergency alert system for residents when a patient elopes.

The next scheduled meeting for the commission is Monday, March 28.