Work crew policy changed after escape

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 12, 1999

VIDALIA, La. – A prisoner’s escape from a work crew last month in Vidalia has caused the Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office to overhaul its policies regarding work crews.

Changes have included cutting size of work crews in half, limiting the number of projects they have to do and more thoroughly screening prisoners that work on crews, Sheriff Randy Maxwell said Tuesday.

The changes stem from an in-house investigation of Travis John Dupre’s Sept. 27 escape. When a supervisor left his crew of eight men for about five minutes, Dupre escaped. He was captured just over a day later in Houma.

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Maxwell said the supervisor, whom he would not name, has been disciplined because of the incident but is still on the force.

Meanwhile, crews began working in Vidalia and along U.S. 84 Monday, the first time they had been allowed to work since Dupre escaped. &uot;We’re phasing them back in, but safety is our No. 1 concern,&uot; Maxwell said.

Last week, Maxwell met with crew supervisors and prisoners to make sure they understood the rules – for example, keeping each other within seeing distance at all times.

&uot;If you take your eyes off the prisoners for three, four, five minutes, they’re gone, so we have to maintain that eye contact,&uot;&160;he said.

During that time, Maxwell’s office also did new, more thorough background checks on each of the work crew prisoners. Offenses for which prisoners are not convicted do not show up on their criminal records when they are sent to the Concordia Parish Correctional Facility.

So the sheriff’s office has now called the district attorney and sheriff in each of the parishes where prisoners committed crimes to make sure there are no other offenses of which the sheriff’s office needs to be aware.

And Maxwell said his office will continue to make such background checks on all new prisoners who volunteer for the work crews.

In addition, the sheriff’s office is cutting the maximum number of prisoners per work crew supervisor from eight to four.

&uot;That means we will have to cut down on the number of projects we do, because we don’t have the manpower to do it otherwise,&uot;&160;Maxwell said.

Concordia Parish has used prisoner work crews for at least 10 years, he said. Projects have ranged from mowing public rights-of-way to painting Vidalia’s town hall.