Book: Prison not needed in Jonesville

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 1, 2000

JONESVILLE, La. – The Jonesville Town Council is researching a proposal to locate a 450-bed prison in or near that town. But the town must first get approval from Catahoula Parish Sheriff Ronnie Book before asking for approval from the Louisiana Department of Corrections. And Book said Wednesday he does not believe that such a prison is needed.

&uot;We’re fixing to add about 1,200 more beds in this state in the next 60 days,&uot;&160;Book said, citing Department of Corrections figures. &uot;The timing of this proposal not good. I&160;think they’ll find they don’t have the D.O.C. inmates they need for this facility.&uot;

The minimum-security facility would be developed by Southern Correctional Inc., which operates a prison in Rayville, where the company is based, said Otis Wiley, who described himself as a marketing consultant for the company.

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The facility would include 60 beds for Town of Jonesville prisoners. About 234, or 60 percent, of the remaining beds would be reserved for federal inmates, with the other 156 beds reserved for state prisoners.

&uot;I don’t believe a business would put this much capital investment into backing a project if it didn’t believe the prisoners were there,&uot; Wiley said.

He said Southern Correctional intends to spend $5 million on building the facility. Wiley said that as of Wednesday afternoon, he did not have access to specific figures on the number of prisoners available to be housed in such a facility.

At least 20 acres of land would be needed to build such a prison, said Wiley, but a site has not yet been selected.

Wiley said he would wait until a later date to comment further on the proposal.

Jonesville Councilman Stephen Mophett said Southern Correctional officials recently approached the town with the proposal.

&uot;We weren’t soliciting proposals. … It was kind of a surprise,&uot;&160;Mophett said. The council held a special meeting last week to consider the proposal. The council must give its approval because it would provide utility service to the site.

Mophett who is serving on a three-member committee reviewing the proposal, discussed prisoner availability concerns with Book Wednesday.

The committee was supposed to schedule a meeting with Book to discuss the proposal further, but on Wednesday afternoon Mophett said that would probably wait until after Mophett receives prisoner numbers from the Department of Corrections next week.

The 420-bed Catahoula Correctional Center, which houses state prisoners and a few U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service prisoners, and a small parish jail already operate in Catahoula Parish.

When asked if the meeting with Book will take place given the sheriff’s concerns, Mophett said &uot;it doesn’t look like it, if the (prisoner)&160;numbers aren’t there. But we have to wait for figures from the Department of Corrections.&uot;

If there enough prisoners, Mophett said he would be for the development because it would bring needed revenue into the town.

The prison, which would employ about 42 full-time workers and 10 part-time workers, would be &uot;a big economic gain for this area, said Buddy Spillers, president of the Macon Ridge Economic Development Region.

&uot;They’re going to build prisons somewhere,&uot;&160;Spillers said. &uot;It might as well be here.&uot;