Today’s meeting of the Lincoln Parish Detention Center Commission revealed shocking developments in the lack of maintenance at the DC that has brought unwelcomed attention from the State Fire Marshall.
LPSO Chief Deputy Jim Tuten revealed in his report on the Detention Center that the State Fire Marshall had inspected the DC facility on December 10 and found numerous code and safety deficiencies requiring immediate action for correction. Deputy Tuten went on to inform the LPDC Commission that the State Fire Marshall had given them 15 days to create a plan that addresses numerous maintenance upgrades possibly costing several hundred thousand dollars, although no specific figures were given.
These repairs include restoration of the electrical and manual locking systems for proper cell door operation, fire alarm system, intercom system, electrical system, and plumbing system. Recent reports have detailed the fact that DC maintenance has been ignored for several years resulting in the backlog of repairs now under the scrutiny of the State Fire Marshall.
In response to the findings of the State Fire Marshall, the LPDC Commission adopted a resolution calling for a list of specific repairs, declaring their implementation a public emergency to bypass state bid laws in meeting the urgency of their need. This resolution did not contain specific costs, nor did it detail from where these funds would be allocated.
Detention Center Warden Zack Crooks reported that several inmates had either been relocated to other facilities or to other areas of the DC to insure their safety in response to the Fire Marshall’s finding that several of the DC cell locks failed to operate properly and presented a danger of trapping inmates in cells. Mr. Crooks assured commission members that the safety of all inmates had been addressed with these measures.
Lincoln Parish Police Jury members present at the meeting expressed dismay at the failure of the LPDC Commission to address facility maintenance under their charge by state law. Police Jury President Theresa Wyatt (District One) met with members of a study group organized to consider the sale of the DC. District 3 Juror Bobby Bennett pertinaciously defended his position that the DC should be sold, resulting in a jactitation of those present. It was agreed that immediate action was necessary to correct the lapsed maintenance problems, while development of a maintenance plan was necessary to prevent this situation reoccurring.
Mr. Bennett argued that the sale would result in savings to the Jury as maintenance, insurance, retirement, and various other costs would be transferred to the new owners. However, others pointed out that these costs would still be borne by the Jury as they would be reflected in the fee charged to the Jury per inmate per day, plus an additional fee for profit. Additionally, it was pointed out that the Jury would lose any control over the DC including insight into facility costs, and that the Jury would be locked into a situation dependent upon control by outside interests with little negotiating power as they are required by law to provide a jail facility. Furthermore, the Jury would have little recourse but to accept the terms dictated by the facility owners.
It is astonishing that the LPDC Commission charged with oversight of the DC and whose members include Lincoln Parish Sheriff Mike Stone, Ruston Chief of Police Steve Rogers, and Lincoln Parish District Attorney Robert Levy could neglect the maintenance of the DC to the point where the State Fire Marshall is forced to declare it unsafe and require immediate action to meet code requirements. Sheriff Mike Stone has worked tirelessly to promote his ostentatious and unnecessary Law Enforcement Complex, securing several state grants and promoting a sales tax to fund its construction all while ignoring much more pressing maintenance needs at the DC.
Perhaps it was felt that inmates awaiting trial were not important enough to warrant spending precious resources on maintaining the facility housing them that could be better spent on facilities more visible to the public and more enhancing to the stature of the sheriff. Inmates awaiting trial are still innocent until proven guilty, and it is our responsibility as citizens to insure that they are incarcerated in facilities that are safe and humane. After all, there, but for the grace of God, go any of us.