St. John jail experiencing sewage snafu

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 29, 2012



LAPLACE – Complaints about unsanitary conditions for inmates at the St. John the Baptist Parish jail have prompted a letter from local ACLU officials, but the Sheriff’s Office has said it is working to correct the problems.

In an open letter addressed to Sheriff Wayne Jones, Marjorie Esman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, said her organization has received complaints about sewage covering the floors of some cells in the old part of the parish jail.

This places inmates at risk of disease,” Esman wrote. “This letter is to advise you that forcing inmates to endure these conditions constitutes a violation of their rights under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

In the letter, Esman stated that corrections officers are required by law to maintain basic standards of public health and asked that the Sheriff’s Office recognize a malfunctioning sewerage system as a “critical public health problem that violates the law and requires immediate attention.”

Prison officials have said that no standing sewage water is in any of the cellblocks and that the problem only arises when there is a sewer blockage. Warden Phillip Hebert said the parish comes out to clean the system when it clogs.

St. John Parish, not the Sheriff’s Office, owns the jail, which is located in LaPlace on Airline Highway near the Percy Hebert Building. Hebert said parish officials are responsible for maintaining the plumbing and sewerage.

He said the Sheriff’s Office had recently met with Parish President Natalie Robottom to discuss the problem, which apparently cropped up about six months ago. Hebert said the issue is with the external plumbing.

St. John Parish spokesperson Paige Braud said the Department of Public Works investigated the issue and determined that nonbiodegradable debris was being flushed from cells and clogging waste lines in the system and leading to flooding in some cell areas. Some of the items that were found in the system included linens, spoons and hard paper products.

Braud said the parish is soliciting prices for installation of a filtering system with new piping and a catch basin that would collect any nonbiodegradable materials. The timeline for correcting the problem depends on how long it takes for materials to be delivered to the parish.

Hebert said about 13 inmates are housed in the cellblock where the problems are occurring. The cells, which are capable of holding 28 inmates, are used to house high profile maximum-security prisoners as well as federal inmates. He said if the problems continue, those inmates will have to me transferred to another area of the building until it can be resolved.

Braud said the parish is continuing to monitor the entire system for recurring problems. She said the lines have been cleared to eliminate clogging and prevent cell flooding.