Lax oversight by the Lincoln Parish Detention Center Commission has resulted in neglected maintenance at the Lincoln Parish Detention Center while Commission Chairman Sheriff Mike Stone was busy squirreling away grant funds for the construction of his new Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Complex.
The Lincoln Parish Detention Center is a 30-year old facility serving as the primary jail unit for Lincoln Parish and its various metropolitan areas. By law, the Police Jury is responsible for providing a jail facility to hold those prisoners who can’t bond out prior to trial. Once tried, inmates are either released or shipped to state prison facilities depending on the outcome of their trials.
The LPDC Commission is charged with providing oversight into the running of the facility, and its composition includes the Lincoln Parish Sheriff, Ruston Chief of Police, the District Attorney, and two representatives appointed by the Police Jury. Until October, Sheriff Mike Stone served as the Chairman of the LPDC Commission when he resigned as chairman but remained on the commission as mandated by law.
It has come to light recently that the DC is in need of roughly $1 million of repairs to renovate various aspects of the facility including a modern system to control the facility locks. DC Commission members such as Sheriff Stone have been aware of these needs since his deputies come into contact with the facility on a day-to-day basis in the course of their duties. The DC has been allowed to languish in need of basic maintenance while funds have been reallocated away from maintenance accounts to other priorities. In other words, this $1 million of repairs is not due to the sudden failure of one thing, but the accumulation of many years of neglecting small repairs.
Earlier this year, Sheriff Stone campaigned for an additional sales tax to fund his new Law Enforcement Complex, explaining to voters that he had secured enough grants to fund construction of the Complex. It has come to light that Sheriff Stone did not actually have title of the land he put up as the matching portion required to secure the grants, but he seems to have overcome this obstacle.
While Sheriff Stone was busy sucking up all the grants to build his Law Enforcement Complex, never did he once think to ask for a grant to upgrade and repair the Detention Center. Maintenance was ignored while Sheriff Stone busied himself with funding his elaborate and unnecessary Law Enforcement Complex. In a parish whose population has remained essentially flat over the last 30 years and whose crime rate has remained among the lowest in the country, Sheriff Stone has decided that Lincoln Parish suddenly needs an elaborate Law Enforcement Complex with the latest conveniences as seen on popular crime shows such as CSI. This is somewhat akin to Barney Fife wanting to cast a dragnet over Mayberry to catch a mad-dog killer.
Meanwhile, the facility that would hold these dangerous criminals caught with all of this high-tech crime fighting equipment has broken locks that require jailers to use keys to open individual cells. A couple of the locks beyond repair forced workers to hammer holes in the wall to free prisoners trapped in the cells. It does absolutely no good to catch criminals with the latest technology if there is no facility in which to hold them prior to trial.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, word has it that the state Fire Marshall has looked over the DC and is concerned about a number of violations that would force closure of the facility. The repairs necessary to avoid closure amount to several hundred thousand dollars, and a ruling would give officials thirty days to get the facility in shape for a revised inspection. Inmates awaiting trial are not only in danger of being locked in cells, but face additional fire hazards from the poorly maintained DC facility itself. In the unfortunate event a fire did break out and someone was hurt, Lincoln Parish citizens would be on the hook for untold amounts resulting from lawsuits while media attention would be focused on the parish and its citizens portrayed in a most unflattering light.
It’s a much sexier prospect to build a Law Enforcement Complex that voters can imagine competes with the technical capabilities of television crime shows, and it’s easy to label critics as being opposed to law enforcement. Many residents have either suffered from property theft or know someone whose house has been burglarized. It is implied that construction of this Law Enforcement Complex will allow deputies to catch the perpetrators of these crimes while neglecting to mention that the deputies already know who the criminals are but can’t collect enough evidence to convict them. Also not mentioned is the District Attorney’s unhurried attitude towards prosecution. The state has impressive lab facilities that can be used to process evidence, but that solution, though cost effective, is not nearly as exciting.
The public is rightly outraged by the brazen disregard of criminals to follow the rules of ordered society. The capture of a criminal provides high drama and allows peace and serenity to return to the community. However, the service of a sentence as punishment for commission of a crime involves the criminal being locked away from decent society where he is forgotten by everyone except the victims. Prisons are just as necessary in the panoply of law enforcement as fancy high tech criminal labs, but not nearly as exciting.
The LPDC Commission has allowed the DC to fall into disrepair while the sheriff has busied himself with the funding and construction of his pet showpiece project, despite his responsibility as chairman of this oversight commission. Ultimate responsibility of the DC rests in the Police Jury, and it behooves them to reassert their influence over this worsening situation. Now that Sheriff Stone has bled the DC dry and secured all of the state grant money he could find, he has resigned as chairman and dumped the resulting problems into the laps of someone else.
Once again, while no one was paying attention, another out-of-control local government entity has created a financial mess for the Police Jury to clean up, leaving us taxpayers holding the bag. These bailouts consume funds which are then not available to provide taxpayer services and tarnish the respect voters have for local government management. The anguished cries being heard by voters are coming from those whose feathered nests are being overturned by a determined Police Jury bent on reestablishing control over the government bodies under their purview. It would behoove us citizens to refrain from calling for the creation of still more government bodies requiring oversight which is hard to come by for the few with which we’re already saddled.