Two for one?

From where we’re sittin’ it looks like our parish police jury is going ahead with building a brand spankin’ new women’s jail facility down yonder near the old penal farm on the quaintly appropriate Penal Farm Road. 

It’s a good idea whose time was a long time coming, and that made we who dwell outside the GOBLIN (that’s Good Ole Boy Lifelong Insider Network) wonder when it would happen and if it did, would it go far enough. 

When the idea was first born to construct the Bayou Dorcheat correctional facility, the need of a women’s section at that lockup was mentioned as something sorely needed. Back in the day, somebody in governance warned that a close inspection would probably result in the shutdown of that fourth-floor of the courthouse jail. If memory remembers, somebody even mentioned something about fines and other fed-type penalties.

That not-so-sweet suite, owned and maintained by the parish police jury, has served as housing for inmates for more than 25 years. Substantial dollars have sunk on repairs and updates over the years, but it is now just about unfixable.  The list of needables is longer than The Donald’s “Who can I blame now” catalog.

Plans call for this new facility to be built on roughly five acres of land, owned by the police jury. The land needed to be cleared of timber, which raises one question. Why clear the five acres when the old P-Farm site (much larger than five acres) was already timber-free. But, that’s a so-what. 

We’re told plans include a 100 x 100 building with parking and an exercise area, costing somewhere in the neighborhood of $214,000. Not a bad price, if accurate. And that cost, plus the need for a major upgrade prisonly speaking, brings up another question.

We surely need the new women’s cell structure. But, in the opinion of an ol’ rockin’ chair mosquito slapper, there’s another, perhaps even more pressing need that could be filled while we’re focusing on the incarcerateds. 

Maybe the police jury and others who have a stake could take this opportunity to provide a place for juveniles who need to be placed under guard. As we have seen in recent months, there is indeed a juvenile crime problem. There is, indeed, practically nowhere to put these future felons.

Currently, when a juvenile is apprehended, agencies in northwest parishes like Webster, Bossier, Claiborne, Bienville, etc. must look to Ware Youth Center in Coushatta. It’s a 24-bed facility, but only a fraction of that number is available to the aforementioned parishes. Often, we’re told Ware is forced to either turn down a request for space or, in extreme cases, determine who must be released to allow for a more serious perpetrator to be housed.

That release factor is what led Minden authorities to be forced into a high-speed chase not all that long ago with a mini-perp who stole a vehicle and used a stick to reach the accelerator. This juvenile had been sent south for allegedly arsoning a Minden home. There just wasn’t enough room to keep this one in Ware.

We hear the police jury is looking at designs for the women’s facility. We wonder if it might not be appropriate to think of expanding the plans to include another section to house juvenile offenders. 

It wouldn’t have to be a full-blown 24-or-more cellhouse. We’ve talked with officials in our part of the world who say if there were eight or 10 spaces available locally, it would be great for law enforcement and the courts.

Yeah, we know, money’s tight for our police jury. But they’re thinking of committing a couple of hundred grand in the new budget, how about thinking outside the box to come up with enough to build a separate but adjoining complex to the one being planned. And, without using the Congressional formula of deficit spending, we think it can be done. Here’s how.

We hear Ware is going up on its price in July for holding a juvenile for our parish and others around us to $300 or so per day. Now that’s serious money for a day’s rent, even for Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt. But money not spent with Ware could finance a Webster juvenile motel. Think of it in terms of saving rather than spending.

If we have a 10-bed facility and it’s full, that’s $3,000 a day we wouldn’t be sending away even if Ware could take everyone. And another plus. If we have our own space, we don’t catch and release like bass pros. We catch, keep and convince these kids there’s a better way or the hard way. Let’em decide which is better.

At three hundred bucks a day, even if we’re talking three or four incarcerates, it won’t take long to repay ourselves if we add another couple of hundred thousand to the prison kitty. Even when we consider the cost of staffing, feeding and other expenses, we can recoup that through savings.

Nothing’s easy, we know that. Mayhaps the police jury could explore the possibility of some support financially from other parish entities who would benefit from keeping youthful offenders from being so downright offensive.  

This is only a spoonful of food for thought. Maybe some heads can get together and come up with a solution to two pressing problems. And remember what the Reagan guy said…it’s amazing what we can get done when it doesn’t matter who gets the credit. 

– Pat Culverhouse