September 11, 2012

Dear Lafourche Parish Council Members:

In the past year and a half, the ACLU of Louisiana has been working with Lafourche Parish Council Members and President Randolph to ensure that the parish does not waste its money building a jail with hundreds of beds it will never need. Rather than spend money on building a much larger jail than Lafourche needs, we urge you to build a jail facility that meets the parish’s needs, ensures public safety, and save millions of dollars in construction and operating costs.

In the recent Daily Comet article entitled “Lafourche Council to Meet for First Time since Isaac,” we learn that the parish council is pressuring parish administration and Ms. Randolph to comply with the council’s vote to approve MWL architects as the new jail designer. We applaud Ms. Randolph for not to rushing into this decision and we urge the Parish council to slow down this process and consider all options that will provide for a safer Lafourche while also saving the parish money.

Last month, the Parish council has approved a 600 bed facility for Lafourche. Once again, the ACLU of Louisiana asks the Parish council how they obtained this figure. Over the past few years, the Lafourche inmate population has steadily stayed around 400 inmates. It does not make financial sense to build a much larger jail than the parish requires. Building a larger jail will not only burden the taxpayers, but will also create a need to fill the jail and lock-up more Lafourche residents.

The best way to ensure that the Parish builds the right-size jail is to hire a jail-sizing expert. Last December, nationally recognized criminal justice expert Dr. James Austin testified before the council and offered to conduct a criminal justice assessment and develop a ten-year baseline population projection that could then guide the parish in deciding how big of a jail it needs. Dr. Austin has done this same work around the country, including in Orleans Parish, where his study resulted in the Orleans council decommissioning thousands of jail beds. As a result, the parish saved more than $3 million in just the first three months of 2011. We again urge the council to take Dr. Austin up on his offer so that the council can ensure that Lafourche is building a jail to meet the needs of the parish.

Furthermore, we must again take this opportunity to point out that Mr. Michael LeBlanc, head of MWL architects, has been called into question by both Texas and Louisiana state authorities in regards to his company LCS which manages private prisons. For example, Texas state auditors determined he instructed a sheriff to forge backdated letters to a federal agency and then instructed the same sheriff to submit an explanation for his $555,000 cost overrun that was contradicted by both the bid specifications and the bids of competing companies. LeBlanc, the sheriff, and another official gave mutually inconsistent explanations of this to the auditors. Someone with this kind of record should be subject to serious scrutiny before receiving a large contract from Lafourche Parish.

If Lafourche builds a jail that is right-sized, it will be ensuring the safety of Lafourche Parish residents as well as making a sound financial decision for the Parish. The best way to protect Lafourche Parish residents is to make certain the Lafourche Parish jail fits the exact needs of the Parish.

Thank you for your consideration.