Supervisors reprise jail talk, go light on recreation

Published 10:21 am Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A trip to northern Louisiana is the next small step in Warren County’s on-again, off-again pursuit of a new county jail.
The issue, easily the most pressing, yet most expensive infrastructure need in county government the past 20 years, rose quickly to the top of a “priorities list” county supervisors put together Monday. Routine road maintenance was the other. Supervisors have budgeted $1,125,000 for paving in fiscal 2014, or about 4.5 miles of roadway.
“As far as capital projects go, those are the two things we are responsible for,” Board President Bill Lauderdale said following a 90-minute informal session. “And the only way we’ll fund any of that is through a bond issue.”
Lauderdale said a group of county officials plan a trip to Monroe to visit Ouachita Parish Correctional Center to study its design. The 1,062-bed facility is staffed by 124 full-time deputies and has undergone four makeovers since it was built in 1963. Most substantial among them was in 1999, when bed space was increased by nearly 500, according to the Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Office website. Lauderdale said at least one supervisor, Sheriff Martin Pace and County Administrator John Smith would make the trip.

The issue apparently trumped additional talk Monday of furthering consolidation of the county’s parks and recreation arm with the city’s recreation department.
“It’s all in a talking stage,” Lauderdale said. “The next step is putting together a committee.”
Last week, Lauderdale, Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs Jr. and members of the city and school boards met to consider options on combining the two functions. They floated the idea of an 11-member panel to study how feasible it would be to merge the city department, which is headed by a single manager appointed by the city, and the county’s operation, which is run by a commission appointed by each member of the county board.
Much of the outward support for doing it lies with the city. Flaggs said the purpose of a feasibility committee is to “tell us what it wants in the form of recreation for the community. I just want the people to be a stakeholder in recreation as it relates to the county and the city, because as I understand it, there’s too much duplication between the county and the city.”
Warren County Jail was completed in 1906 and added onto just once, in 1977. The facility can accommodate 141 inmates, though its outdated linear design and conditions have made it the top need of county government in grand jury reports dating back to the early 1990s. People held by the Vicksburg police are routinely taken to other counties’ facilities before a first court appearance.
In April 2010 after a 16-month study Voorhis/Robertson Justice Services presented the committee with a 148-page report presenting architectural and staffing needs. The report called for a 134,000-square-foot, 350-bed facility built on at least 20 acres. Ideally, the county jail also must be expandable to 650 beds and likely will need a 50-acre tract, according to the report. Jail staff would need to be tripled from current numbers to operate a facility of that size, according to the evaluation.
Visits to jails in Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky and the Caddo Parish jail in Shreveport, La. ensued. In May 2011, nine offers of land for jail sites — as small as eight acres and as vast as 195 — inside and outside Vicksburg’s city limits were submitted. None has been singled out publicly as a leading choice. Supervisors have put off asking the Legislature to allow a jail to be built anywhere in the county — which would act as a special exception to current law stating a jail must be in a county seat — until a site was picked.

Staff writer John Surratt contributed to this report.

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