Prison project makes progress

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 2, 2000

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / December 2, 2000

HAHNVILLE – St. Charles Parish’s new correctional center is only six toeight months away from admitting its first inmate, as construction rises in a former cane field behind Killona. The target date for taking inprisoners will be some time between May and July 2001.

“We wanted to build in a lot of controls,” Maj. Sam Zinna, who hasspearheaded the project for five years for the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’sOffice.

The 590-bed facility, being located on a 63.24-acre site on LouisianaHighway 3127, is loaded with controls, as a recent tour revealed.

The most notable example is that inmates will greet most visitors over a closed-circuit television system, where the inmates will remain in their cell block and talk to visitors elsewhere in the complex over TV.

This was done, Zinna said, to eliminate the possibility of contraband being introduced into the facility, especially drugs. Attorneys will be allowedface-to-face interviews with their clients, but only through a glass window.

The new correctional center includes separate maximum-, medium- and minimum-security sections and a separate section for female inmates.

For the males, minimum security includes four units of 52 inmates each.

Medium security includes eight units of 26 inmates each. Maximumsecurity includes four units of 30 inmates each.

For the female population, minimum security includes one unit each for minimum, medium and maximum security, for a total of 82 inmates.

Design for the correctional center came after much analysis of other facilities, especially that in Terrebonne Parish, which also uses a central control “tower” surrounded by sections. Every cell is visible from thecentral core tower in each unit. The center was designed by Gassen,Gassaway and Holloway Architects.

Site preparation began work in mid-September 1999, clearing a sugar cane field, installing water lines and doing test borings of the soil to determine how much pile-driving was necessary.

Construction of the new correctional center began in January, with 14 to 16 months anticipated for completion, on a 30-acre site.

The center also includes GED classrooms, chapel, library, kitchen, laundry, expanded offices and records-storage capacity and an easy-flow design to maximize safety for the employees, inmates and visitors. “The flow iswhat we spent a lot of time on in the design,” Zinna said.

There are interview rooms, a medical unit with on-site nurses and dentist and exercise yards. In case of emergency, each unit can be evacuated inisolation from the others.

Depending on the timetable by the construction contractor, Royal Anderson Construction of Gulfport, the hiring and training of additional corrections staff will be conducted. The finished facility is expected to be turned overto the sheriff’s office by March, Zinna said.

By the time the facility is ready to admit inmates next summer, Zinna plans to have the staff hired and trained. At first, inmates will be broughtover from the present facility, as well as from the St. John Parishcorrectional center, hopefully by May.

Eighty new employees are to be hired and trained, in classes of 40 at once, according to Warden Roland Ladreyt. “I think it’s coming along great!” Inmates themselves won’t arrive all at once, Ladreyt continued, but they’ll come over several weeks as the staff adjusts to the inmate population and the facility itself.

Meanwhile, the present 119-inmate facility on the third floor of the St.

Charles Parish Courthouse in Hahnville will likely be converted to another function, but that will be up to the parish council.

One idea is to apply for available federal funds to convert it into a much- needed juvenile facility. Another possibility is also to briefly hold adultinmates there for court dates.

Should the present facility be renovated into a juvenile center, some modifications will be necessary to accommodate, including classroom space and more staff space, which will reduce the capacity.

The correctional center construction is being financed by $12.5 million in20-year bonds, approved on March 25, 1999 for the St. Charles Parish LawEnforcement District, the debt to be repaid by anticipated housing fees for holding prisoners for the state Department of Corrections.

The remainder of the estimated $15.5 million cost will be met by theparish government’s capital outlay funds.

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