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New jail plans for St. Charles presented

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / August 26, 1998

HAHNVILLE – St. Charles Parish has overgrown its present 119-bed jailatop the parish courthouse and needs to immediately plan and build a new jail in a new location, according to St. Charles Parish Sheriff GregChampagne.

The sheriff this week unveiled a plan for a new facility, to be financed with no new taxes, using a method which built the St. John Parishcorrectional center.

Also, advertisements for proposals are being published today in the official journal for available land, seeking a 40-acre site.

“It’s not going to get any better until we have a new facility,” Champagne told the Correctional Center Review Committee on Thursday. Thecommittee includes representatives from the sheriff’s office, parish president, parish council, district judges and district attorney.

“We have to do something about a jail to keep the quality of life here as it is,” Champagne asserted.

With that, the committee voted to recommend the Parish Council pass a resolution of support and start the wheels in motion toward breaking ground at a site to be determined by March or April 1999. Champagne hopesto have the new jail open by January 2001.

A proposed facility, based on the Terrebonne Parish model, is a 590-bed jail with separate maximum-, medium- and minimum-security sections and a separate section for female inmates.

The $15.5 million facility, Champagne said, would be paid for through a20-year bond issue repaid by housing fees received for housing state Department of Corrections prisoners.

That financing would generate $11.5 million and would be joined by $4million from St. Charles Parish out of Capital Outlay funds.”I realize this is a big thing to swallow,” Champagne said, but he reminded the Parish Councilmen attending the parish government, by law, must provide for a parish jail.

The present jail, built in 1978, is at capacity now, and a frequent problem is finding space. Local inmates are often shipped to neighboring parishjails, but that problem is shared by parish jails across Louisiana.

“If we had space today we could put 200 in cells,” Champagne asserted. Heexpects the need for more jail space to grow and anticipates that in 20 years the need will increase from 200 now to nearly 350.

“This may be conservative, the way it’s going,” the sheriff said.

Additional problems at present are housing female and juvenile inmates.

Both present special difficulties and have specific requirements from the U.S. Justice Department. The present jail is proposed to be converted to ajuvenile facility, and the new jail would include a separate 78-bed female facility with room for expansion.

The present jail could be converted to a juvenile facility capable of housing 75 to 80 inmates.

“As illustrated by our recent drug roundup, the problem of available jail space is becoming intolerable,” Champagne asserted. “We have had tohouse prisoners out of parish and adjust our enforcement operations due to this problem.”Many of those inmates have been housed in St. John the Baptist Parish’snew jail, built principally with state funds.

In an effort to attack the problem, Champagne designated Maj. Sam Zinnaas Jail Project Coordinator to handle the day-to-day coordination of the project. He will also stay in charge of the department’s federal grantsprogram and one of the department’s representatives on the 9-1-1 Commission.

Zinna’s duties as commander of communications, records, training, data processing, purchasing and district attorney investigators will be taken over, as of May 1, by Capt. Jon Walsdorf, present commander of PatrolOperations.

In addition, Lt. Fred Oubre, present watch commander, will temporarilytake command of the Patrol Division.

At the same time, the St. Charles Parish Council has established acommittee to address the jail problem, including Parish President Chris Tregre, Sheriff Champagne, 29th Judicial District Attorney Harry Morel and Judge Emile St. Pierre and Parish Councilmen Barry Minnich, TerryAuthement, Dickie Duhe, Brian Champagne and Ron Phillips.

“We have reached the stage in this process,” Champagne noted, “where our attention must be focused full time to this project.””I am committed to a new jail complex to alleviate this problem for our adult inmate population and to provide a facility to house juvenile offenders,” Champagne continued, and added: “A new jail and juvenile facility is essential to the continued quality of life for the residents of St. Charles Parish.”He concluded, “It is also critical for our department to maintain the level of services that we provide and to maintain the excellent level of proficiency that we enjoy.”Committee representatives visited several correctional centers, and a proposed modular facility was designed at no charge by the architectural firm of Gossen, Gasaway, Holloway, which designed the Terrebonne Parish jail.

Additionally, Warden Steve Guedry of the Sherman Walker Correctional Center in St. John Parish was an advisor to the project.Committee members, besides Sheriff Champagne, include District Judge Emile St. Pierre, District Attorney Harry Morel, Parish President ChrisTregre, and Parish Councilmen Brian Champagne, Dickie Duhe, Ron Phillips and Barry Minnich.

In addition Maj. Sam Zinna spearheaded much of the research effort,working with Warden Roland Ladreyt.

“I know the public is anxiously awaiting what we have,” Champagne said, recalling last week he needed to send 25 inmates to St. John Parish.However, St. John had no room.”It’s really a tight situation.”

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