Sheriff, police jury hope to team up to solve prison problems

By Bonnie Culverhouse

On the fourth floor of the Webster Parish Courthouse, 57 women are crammed into tiny cells amid conditions that are irreparable. The paint is peeling off the walls. Some of the plumbing no longer works. The odor is dank and moldy. The air-conditioning is intermittent. It almost defies the imagination. There are 61 beds, some inmates are eight to a cell.

“There has been a jail up there for more than 25 years, since I began policing here,” Webster Parish Sheriff Jason Parker said. “A lot of money has been put into it over the years. There have been flooding issues with the plumbing, and after a while, these things can’t be fixed any more.

“And with the Covid issue we have right now, we do not have a location to really quarantine incoming females,” he continued. “It makes it very difficult to isolate them for 14 days from the general population.”

Parker said they have that option at Bayou Dorcheat Correctional Center (BDCC), which is the men’s prison, but not at the women’s jail. And the sheriff’s department houses female prisoners from surrounding parishes that don’t have a facility for women.

“It’s nobody’s fault at this point,” Parker said, referring to the Webster Parish Police Jury which owns and maintains the courthouse. “There are no longer parts available to fix a lot of these issues with plumbing and air conditioning.”

In fact, he knows the jury wants to help him with a plan that would solve everything.

“The sheriff wants to move the women’s prison to the Camp Minden grounds, near BDCC,” police jury President Jim Bonsall said. “We are going to do everything we can to find the money to help them do just that.”

Parker said he has located a building at Camp Minden, about a mile from BDCC, that is owned by the National Guard.

“The structure, infrastructure and foundation are already there,” the sheriff said. “With a little renovation, we can make it into an approximately 100-bed facility. That’s what we are shooting for.”

WPSO investigator Dustin Reynolds said it will also give them the capability to isolate incoming prisoners.

“We will be able to segregate work release from other prisoners, too,” Reynolds said. “That helps in a lot of ways because they are a different status prisoner.”

Parker said the new women’s prison would be a dormitory-style facility, except for the areas needed for isolation. It will be leased from the National Guard and renovated with the cost shared by his office and the police jury.

“It’s a block and brick building in surprisingly good shape,” Parker said. “It was the old Y Line cafeteria.”

Parker said the process will take time. Possibly 18 months to two years. They hope to use BDCC inmate workers to help with the demolition.

“That will save a lot of money,” he said.

Photos:  by Bonnie Culverhouse

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