Parish prison expansion to be occupied by mid-February

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 11, 2000

FERRIDAY, La. — Where most people would see 46,000 square feet of large, bare concrete rooms, Concordia Parish Sheriff Randy Maxwell sees a prison addition that is off to a good start.

&uot;We’ll have expanded nursing facilities and a kitchen that’s half again as big as we have next door,&uot; said Maxwell, walking briskly past contracting crews. &uot;This will be a control room with windows overlooking the dorms and the ‘suicide room,’ so that we don’t have to rely on cameras to watch them,&uot;&160;he added, gesturing down at the large, open prisoner dorms from a overhead room that has not yet been enclosed with glass.

But given good winter weather and no unforeseen delays, Maxwell will not have to use his imagination much longer to envision the facility. The $6 million expansion of the Concordia Parish Correctional Facility should be built by the end of January 2001 and occupied by mid-February, he said during a Wednesday tour of the site.

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The facility is expected to house 500 inmates, employ 70 people and indirectly create about 150 jobs outside the facility. With the current facility, located on Louisiana 15 adjacent to the site, it is expected to have a $500,000-a-month economic impact, according to sheriff’s office figures.

The sheriff’s office plans to use the new facility to house prisoners not participating in drug rehabilitation programs. The older prison, which was opened in spring 1997 and now houses 392 prisoners, will house prisoners in drug rehab programs. Both parts of the prison will be minimum-security.

The expansion will include eight prisoner dorms with four control rooms overlooking them; a multi-purpose room for classes and religious services; expanded kitchen and storage facilities; and four recreational yards.

Although the expansion is similar to the present prison, reconfiguration of control rooms and placement of &uot;lock-down&uot; rooms for violent prisoners closer to the prison’s dorms are among the changes that were made in the expansion, Maxwell said.

&uot;We’ve been operating the existing facility for more than three years now, and that gives you an opportunity to see what changes could be made … to make it easier to manage,&uot; he said.

B.A.S. Construction of Rayville, which is building the expansion, has built similar facilities in Rayville, Richwood, Catahoula Parish and LaSalle Parish, and Fayette, according to Maxwell and Dennis Boyette, manager of the expansion project.

The existing facility is owned and operated by the sheriff’s office. B.A.S. Construction is building the expansion at their own cost and will own the building and the land on which it sits, but the sheriff’s office will operate it.

The expansion, like the current facility, would house state prisoners, and the state pays the parish $23 a day per prisoner for their care.

If the expansion runs efficiently enough to care for prisoners with less money, B.A.S. will get any money left over. If there is no money left over, B.A.S. gets nothing. The expansion, said Maxwell, &uot;won’t cost the parish a dime.&uot;

He added that the company agreed to the deal because the existing prison has a history of running efficiently.

For one thing, the repeat offender rate among the current facility’s prisoners has fallen from 72 percent in 1997 to 19 percent among prisoners in the prisoner’s drug rehab program.

Based on an average cost of $20,000 a year for housing a prisoner, Maxwell estimates that the rehab program has saved $1.2 million.

It has dropped to 61 percent for other inmates, according to figures from the Louisiana State University School of Social Work.

The rehab program is not easy to complete, however. While about 152 inmates have graduated from the Concordia Correctional Treatment Program since it started in June 1997, about 230 more started the program but failed to complete it.

The program is funded by grants from the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement and the Louisiana Office of Addictive Disorders.