Calcasieu Parish Sherffi’s Prison: Recovery 95 percent complete; guards needed

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, April 5, 2023

The Sheriff’s Prison repairs are 95 percent complete. Contractors are programming door locks, a job that could not be completed until all doors were installed. Now Sheriff Tony Mancuso is trying to staff up, a new challenge.

“It’s coming along, and it will probably be finished in June. But if I don’t have 80 deputies between now and then to open, I’m still in the same position I’m in today,” Mancuso said.

It’s been two- and-a-half years since the Calcasieu Correctional Center and the Sheriff’s Prison — two separate facilities located in the same area – were damaged by Hurricanes Laura and Delta. 770 prisoners had to be housed in other parishes. About a year ago, the Calcasieu Correctional Center repairs were completed. It now holds 540 males and 51 females. 49 percent are white. 47 percent are black. The rest are Hispanic/Latino.

That leaves 332 prisoners still housed in other parishes, most are in East Carroll because that is the facility that could accept them at the time of evacuation in 2020.

“We work very hard to keep those numbers down,” Mancuso said.

In June 2021, the American Press reported that the repairs to the Sheriff’s Prison were done or nearly complete, including a new roof. “Other projects – such as new electronics for doors, a state-of-the-art computer system, window replacements and repainting – still await bid opening.

“We thought it would take a year and a-half,” Mancuso said.

The price tag is at approximately $30 million.

Sheriff Mancuso said that repairing the Sheriff’s Prison, an over 100,000 square-foot facility, ran into some of the same problems experienced by others after the hurricanes: difficulty getting a contractor, contractors’ difficulties in getting skilled workers, supply chain disruptions, weather issues, retrofitting challenges, and the CPSD is still in mediation with its insurance company. Mancuso said that the money received was not enough to cover the damages.

Lack of funding is not the reason why the jail immediately behind the Sheriff’s offices, referred to as the Sheriff’s Prison, is taking so long to repair and reopen for new prisoners and prisoners being housed in other facilities outside of Calcasieu Parish.

Commander Matt Vezinot is construction project manager. He pointed out some of the troublesome issues at the jail that are finally being resolved. Humidity impacted the paint. A new A/C did not reconcile with the placement of heating and cooling units installed 30 years ago when the prison was built. Programming the most important aspect of the facility – the security system – including each door lock could not begin until computers, wiring, doors and locks were installed. Vexinot pointed out that each door, including labor, was a $20,000 price tag. The doors were not an upgrade.

The Sheriff’s Prison and the CCC holds about 1300 prisoners, total. However, the number of beds and the number of prisoners is not synonymous. Mental and physical health and violent behavior can warrant the isolation of prisoners in one-bunk units. Mancuso said he has a full time mental health professional on staff in addition to other health professionals.

“The Calcasieu Parish Police Jury is paying the bills to feed and house the prisoners, and they reimburse me, and now they are paying at a much higher rate, $26 a day compared to $5 something. So there is an incentive to get it finished – for all of us.”

The majority of the 332 prisoners housed elsewhere are in East Carroll Parish, because they could take them, the Sheriff said. The rest are “all over.”

Asked about an Advocate article that spoke to the hardship on families to visit prisoners housed outside of Calcasieu Parish. Mancuso is empathetic.

“I’m a father and a grandfather and I know how much I love my kids,” he said. “I know these parents don’t love their kids any less.”

He’s empathetic.

“At the end of the day, you’ve got to be fair,” he said.

Mancuso said COVID took its toll on his prison workforce.

“We lost them through attrition,” he said. “And now we’re trying to rehire to open it back upm the workforce is just not there to hire them.”

CPSD officers are hired at $40,000. Once an officer goes through the academy, he or she receives a $500 month raise. Health insurance is paid, and after a few years, increasing incremental percentages of family insurance is paid. There is a 401K program/comp deferral program with a percentage of matching dollars available and, for those who meet eligibility requirements–CPSD pays all but 2 percent of retirement. A college degree is not required. An officer who has worked 30 years makes, on the average, $70,000 to $80,000.