Positive & Negative Changes in Law Enforcement
Law enforcement agencies in Terrebonne and Lafourche made news for both triumphs and difficulties over the past year, but even some defeats for administrators have had some silver linings.
The biggest law enforcement news in Lafourche by far is the completion — and opening — of a new parish jail, which Sheriff Craig Webre fought for over many years.
In Terrebonne, Sheriff Jerry Larpenter is still struggling due to budget problems, particularly after voters vetoed his proposed half-cent sales tax. Some relief has come from the Terrebonne Parish Council’s approval of payments to the Sheriff’s Office for housing inmates. Larpenter has always had the authority and ability to request that the parish – which owns the Terrebonne jail – foot part of the bill for inmate care. Such arrangements are common in other Louisiana parishes.
On Jan. 18 more than 240 inmates were moved to the new lockup from the parish’s dysfunctional, old jail, which posed dangers for both inmates and the officers overseeing them. Inmates exiled to Catahoula Parish because of the shortcomings of the old structure were also returned to Lafourche.
“A new era of corrections has begun in Lafourche Parish,” said Webre. “The Lafourche Parish Correctional Complex not only provides increased security for our employees and inmates, but it affords us an incredible opportunity to rehabilitate offenders before they are released back into society.”
Long-time proponents of programs designed to cut down on recidivism and address needs like job skills and substance abuse, Webre and his warden, Capt. Cordell Davis, were frustrated in attempts to put plans into action because of crowding and other problems at the old jail. Now, Webre said, the increased space and physical structure of the new jail will allow for more imaginative approaches.
A vital component of the new jail’s operation is that it was built to accommodate an inmate management approach called “direct supervision.”
“The officer is in the housing unit along with the inmates,” Webre said. “There are many advantages from a management perspective. It is a radical transformation … and will require an extensive amount of training and re-indoctrination. It minimizes the issues that you would normally have, and a lot depends on the proper classification of inmates.”
The old jail, now empty, is in the care and custody of the Lafourche Parish Government. Plans for its future have not yet been formulated.
In Terrebonne, council members approved a change in the parish government’s operating budget to allow payments to Larpenter’s office of up to $1,500,000 to cover the cost of inmate maintenance.
To cope with dwindling revenues over a period of years, Larpenter sent termination notices to 29 deputies effective the end of December. The bulk of those slated for dismissal were correctional officers working at the Ashland jail, which is operated by the Sheriff but owned by the parish, about a quarter of the total force. This resulted in the transfer of about 25 percent of the jail’s inmates to distant parishes, which could have resulted in costs of $3 million or more to Terrebonne’s government, which by law ultimately bears the responsibility for inmates. Although the Sheriff operates the jail, he is not required to bear the cost of feeding and housing them from his budget.
Parish President Gordon Dove came to the conclusion that paying out the $1.5 million for inmate care and housing that Larpenter requested was a better deal for the parish than the costs that would be generated from keeping inmates out-of-town. In addition, costs would have been incurred for transportation of inmates to and from court appearances, with parishes that were going to hold them located more than 200 miles from Houma.
The Sheriff personally addressed the Council on the night it gave the approval, asking that his response be included in the record. He noted that he had been running three separate jails at various points in time. They are the main facility at Ashland, a smaller operation above the Terrebonne Parish courthouse annex, and a new women’s jail that was once the site of the parish’s juvenile detention center.
Totally refurbished through inmate labor, using materials purchased by the parish, the women’s jail is a state-of-the-art facility that Larpenter closed within its first year of operation due to funding problems. He has expressed hope that the building can be used to house state inmate sentenced to prison time for low-level offenses, for which the Sheriff’s Office is paid by the state. During the entire time that he has operated lock-ups in the parish, Larpenter noted, he has never floated an added millage or other form of additional taxation even though he has the authority to do so if needed. The ordinance authorizing the expenditure passed unanimously.
“A new era of corrections has begun in Lafourche Parish. The Lafourche Parish Correctional Complex not only provides increased security for our employees and inmates, but it affords us an incredible opportunity to rehabilitate offenders before they are released back into society.”
– Sheriff Craig Webre•