THIBODAUX, La. — Lafourche Parish residents voted on Nov. 16 against a proposal that would have diverted property tax money, which currently funds public libraries, to fund a replacement facility for the current Lafourche Parish Detention Center in Thibodaux. The proposal failed 44 percent to 56 percent, according to complete but unofficial results from the Secretary of State’s Office.
The referendum would have used about $800,000 of a $3.5 million special library tax approved in 2005 towards construction and upkeep of a new parish jail. Advocates of the tax rededication argued that the move would allow a $25 million jail to be built without raising taxes.
Despite the vote against funding the jail, the Lafourche Parish Detention Center is in need of a replacement facility or update to the current one. The building was built in 1968 and expanded in 1977, but has been battling space issues since at least 1995, reported the Tri-Parish Times. The facility has infrastructural issues, including tight quarters that pose a security threat to guards.
The jail can hold 244 inmates, but earlier this month, 335 inmates were listed on the detention center’s roster. Overflow inmates are shipped to outside facilities through contracts approved by the council, but it is costly to the parish. As of now, Sheriff Craig Webre told the Tri-Parish Times that deputies do not arrest suspected misdemeanor offenders and instead issue a criminal summons. The overcrowding also suppresses bail amounts, allowing some offenders to bond out more easily.
Lafourche Parish council chairman Lindel Toups added that some crimes like DUIs are being treated like traffic infractions to manage overcrowding. He said that the parish is on the edge of being required by a federal judge to build a new jail, which would require immediate funding from parish government.
Toups made headlines in early November after the Tri-Parish Times reported he said that he disagreed with some of the library programs in place, specifically referring to a Spanish-language program being offered at one of the library branches.
The parish has met with bonding attorneys to work on establishing and working with a $25 million budget for a new jail. The parish council hired Michael LeBlanc as the project’s consultant this summer. He recommends that the parish build a 540-bed jail, in accordance with the ACLU Foundation of Louisiana, which called for the parish to commission an expert to study Lafourche’s needs.