Jail committee lacks leadership

The Lafourche Parish New Jail Committee exudes an attitude of malaise even while stressing that it understands the urgency of building a new facility.

Beyond the nonexistence of progress, a rash of missed meetings and repeated requests for already-provided information hollow out the committee’s stance that it is trying to move forward and raise the question as to whether or not its members are actually invested in the goal.

Three committee members, Parish President Charlotte Randolph and councilmen Jerry Jones and Louis Richard, have missed three of the six meetings, and Councilman Rodney Doucet missed two meetings. The rest of the committee, Maj. Marty Dufrene, parish Finance Director Ryan Friedlander and Councilman Lindel Toups, have attended every meeting.

Doucet, having missed the previous two meetings, most recently requested the jail’s operating costs and revenue sources. Shouldn’t this have been hashed out months ago…years ago? This isn’t a trivial matter.

The jail is overcrowded and prisoners are being held in deplorable conditions. In the event that’s not an appealing testament to the need for a new facility, consider the danger posed to guards who have to escort groups of inmates down narrow halls, the monitoring inefficiencies that run up operating costs and the millions of taxpayer dollars that subsidize other parish jails that do have extra space. That’s just scratching the surface.

This isn’t a call for more beds or a stance on criminal justice philosophy. It’s a call for leadership.

The parish council delegated the job to the committee, which has failed to move forward. Someone must step up and take charge during this stagnant period.

There have been six meetings in six months, about six hours of on-the-record dialogue over a 202-day period. Whatever the cause, it would be tough to make the case that the parish is any closer to a new facility than it was a year ago, not one decision has been made.

To call it superficial would be a disgrace to Paris Hilton.

Toups, the committee’s chairman, said he believes a chasm between the sheriff and parish president not only exists, but it is hampering progress. He’s not the only person who feels that way, but he did go on the record. “It’s slower than usual because the administration and sheriff can’t work together,” Toups said.

Toups said he doesn’t care about the jail’s specifics inasmuch as he just wants to move forward with a sales tax proposition. He said he understands the details must first be agreed upon, but repeatedly pleaded with members to set the March 24 ballot as an unofficial target.

The deadline to submit a proposition to the Secretary of State for the presidential primary ballot is Jan. 13, and it would need council and state bond commission approval prior to that date.

At this pace, it’s a fool’s dream.