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Southwest Louisiana ,
(Johnathan Manning / American Press)

(Johnathan Manning / American Press)

Phelps prison closes doors

Last Modified: Wednesday, October 31, 2012 10:40 PM

By Johnathan Manning / American Press

DEQUINCY — C. Paul Phelps Correctional Center’s 54 years as a state prison will come to a quiet end when the facility officially closes its doors at 6 p.m. today.

The inmates have been gone for six days, as have the wardens. Weeds have already begun to overtake much of the landscaping, and the vegetable fields that surround the medium-security facility have been picked clean and the yield shipped to Angola State Penitentiary.

Most of the 269 employees have left too, save for a few, like Gina Pitre, who stayed on to help shut the place down and help representatives from Angola load equipment.

“I have rode it out to the end,” said Pitre, a six-year veteran of Phelps.

The state Department of Public Safety and Corrections on Sept. 14 announced plans to close the prison by Nov. 1 as a cost-cutting measure. Jimmy LeBlanc, head of the department, said the move will save $2.6 million this fiscal year and $11.85 million over the next two fiscal years.

The last of the nearly 900 prisoners who were housed at Phelps were shipped to Angola on Friday, leaving the once-bustling prison yard eerily empty.

“You’re watching your livelihood drive away basically,” said Marcus Myers, Phelps’ chief of security. He said he began working at Phelps at age 19 and has remained there 22 years, currently residing on the prison grounds. “It’s terrible, very sad and depressing.”

Representatives from Angola, where most of the prisoners were shipped, have been traveling to Phelps every day to haul any usable equipment to the other side of the state, workers at Phelps said.

“They are gutting this place,” Pitre said. “Anything they can pick up and move, they’re taking.”

Angola has picked up vehicles, tractors and kitchen equipment, Myers said.

“It looks like they’re going to take everything they can,” said Carol Lee Fruge, the warden’s secretary. “Even down to the flowers, from what I’ve heard.”

Fruge and Marcus will remain at Phelps as administrators. Four officers will remain to supervise work crews from other prisons, and eight employees will stay in the prison’s pre-classification division, which tabulates sentences for several prisons’ inmates.

Employees said they are waiting to see whether a meeting of pre-classification staff from around the state called for today will change any of those arrangements.

Those who will remain at the site will work out of the business office, while the rest of the buildings are being powered down, Myers said.

Now comes the future for Pitre and the rest of the Phelps correctional staff who didn’t transfer to facilities around the state or retire.

Of the 269 people employed at Phelps when the state announced the decision to close the facility, 86 transferred to other state facilities and 53 have retired, said Pam Laborde, Department of Corrections spokeswoman.

Most of the prisoners housed at Phelps were transferred to Angola, and most of the employees who transferred went there also.

Those who are leaving the Department of Corrections are getting paid for leave time accrued, and the few who live on prison grounds have been told they will be allowed to live there through Jan. 1, workers said.

Like many of their co-workers, Pitre and Steven Thomas decided not to uproot to transfer to Angola.

Thomas, who has worked in corrections for seven years, said he started his career at Angola. Originally from the west side of the state, he would drive to Angola and go home on his off days, he said.

But after a vehicle accident on the Angola compound, he said he sought a transfer to Phelps.

“I like my job,” Thomas said. “I hate seeing it close, but it kind of opens up opportunities for me.”

He said the unemployment office is helping him find funds to go back to school to become a welder. He said that because of the pay, he had considered leaving corrections before, but “when you find a job you like, you tend to stick with it.”

But it was the pay that kept him from seeking a transfer back to Angola, he said.

Pitre said it just wasn’t economically feasible to transfer to Angola.

“Some people decided to move on, others are still here just kind of hanging in the wind,” she said.

An eight-year veteran of corrections, she started work at Allen Correctional Center at age 19.

“I came into corrections for a career,” she said. “I came here for better opportunities. Now what are you going to do?

“I’m done with corrections, that’s for sure. There’s no security in it anymore. If they can close Phelps down, they can close any place down.”

DeQuincy Mayor Lawrence Henagan, perhaps the most vocal critic of the state’s decision to close the prison, said the goal is still to get the unemployed back to work.

“It’s a sad day, but the sun is going to come up tomorrow,” he said. “We’re hoping that a lot of people out of jobs have found something. That’s the key to all this — getting those people back to work.

“People in DeQuincy, they don’t just throw their hands up and give up. We believe in a glass half-full, not half-empty. That’s the way people here are.”

Posted By: marvin kemp On: 11/2/2012

Title: un silenced longer employed.

The truth is....Dequincy has more at stake now than ever. If the property is bought by a private company the hourly wage available to anyone seeking employment will be the same as a two year employee of McDonald's. Odd that the caliber of security you are comfortable with? Would you like fries with that line of mess? Safer? Really??!!!. An eye sore....hmm it is a prison, not Bush Gardens. But with the white fence in good repair and the litter free roadsides, and big tress throughout the compound , and the well cut lawns, I fail to compare it to an eye sore. It's not the worst thing I've seen on the roadside. You get what you pay for. I was a part of a collection of Officers. We are not "guards" . We were able to pay are bills and live close to Dequincy and the surrounding areas , feed into the local economy. How many of us may have to move now. None of us can take a 5- 6 dollar an hour pay cut. In today's terminology this is an " epic fail". Phelps was run by professional officers who provided security for the public and the offender. How safe will the offenders be at a facility where the person in charge of their safety is making minimum scale. Will that person risk their life to interfere with offender on offender violence? Go ahead say what you're thinking. You don't care...right. well then don't get arrested for anything and sent to prison. If you end up in prison who's going to protect you? Would you want an officer or a guard protecting you? What if it's your child who goes to prison? We are professionals that will now have to hunt for work. The kicker is, WE did nothing wrong. This decision was made by someone intentionally. I believe that is both naive and immature to think that this was done to save money. Someone has known for years of the inverted pyramid thathat represents the uneven rank structure of Phelps. So we are expected to believe that farm production failed, and money is spent on new equipment. Less than 1000 offenders and 5 Wardens are needed. We to believe that it is responsiblespending of taxpayers money to update a perimeter surveillance system, update lighting in one of the newer buildings, update plumbing throughout the prison, and purchase new equipment to replace old equipment that was no broken and rarely ever used to begin with. It seems more like money was THROWN away. Why? To make it look on paper like a failure. Who stands to gain? Certainly not us, we lost. But what about the person receiving incentives for cutting state jobs and makng them private. Where's the money coming from? Is it big private companies whispering in the ears of those in charge? You see the big problem is not the eye sore you can's what you don't see that ultimately deals the most devastating blow.

Posted By: un silenced.... no longer an employee. On: 11/2/2012

Title: Quiet for long enough.....

You can call it an eye sore I guess if that is the worst thing you have seen on the side of the road. With its litter free roadsides and well maintained lawns. The fencing in good repair and trees throughout the grounds. This was never meant to be the sister to the Bush Gardens. It was intended to house sentenced offenders, to spend their numbered days working on compound as ordered by a judge. I suppose those who consider prisons as an eye sore would sooner Excex-communicate prisoners and just forget about them once they are sentenced. This prison provided opportunity for a man to serve his time and gain something in the process. The intent is to rehabilitate and reintroduce a potentially fruitfulmember of society. That doesn't mean we were all fooled to be believe that all of them will change. Statistics prove that a large part of incarcerated men and women will offend again. The real problem lies in Baton Rouge. This closure was done intentionally. It wasn't an oversight or just an idea to save money. If they were concerned about being fiscally responsible then for camp of less than 1000 offenders never would have had 5 Wardens. The amount of upper rank for camp so small was irresponsible. The money spent on unnecessary things and positions could have been used to make the compounds farm more productive. Headquarters is responsible for overseeing such things. So the real questions are, who closed their eyes to the problem and why, how can they spend money to update the perimeter security spend money on updating the communications for the offenders, updating the lighting in areas of the prison, updating plumbing throughout the prison? Someone had to make these decisions or get them approved. That's where the problem is. I wonder if the person allowing this irresponsibility with taxpayers money was given any incentive or compensation? I just don't see throwing money away like this and calling it saving money. For camp that size only one Warden and one Deputy Warden a Colonel over Security and a Lieutenant Colonel and so on. The inverted pyramid that contituted Phelps for so long is backwards thinking. There was so much.upper rank soaking up the payroll that that regular employees couldn't get a raise. They had no hope of ever having a career , because of the intrenched upper rank structure. With the rank structure being so broad at the top resting on a revolving tip of cadets and low level sergeants it was only a matter of time before it fell. All of the updates mentioned above have taken place over the last year and a half to two years.

Posted By: dawn andrepont On: 11/1/2012

Title: PCC Emoloyee Dawn Andrepont

Well that eye sore has put food on my table, paid my bills and kept me off of welfare & living off of the state for 7 years. I am a single mom & I absolutely loved my job & the people (family) I worked with. PCC may be an eye sore for you but it was a way of life for many more. Regardless if PCC was still open or clised does not make DeQuincy any safer!!

Posted By: Sgt. Pitre On: 11/1/2012

Title: Phelps

It may have been an eye sore for you but to all of us that were employed, it was a way of means to live. Take care of our families, survive. I was safe with it being open. The economy is what is going to suffer, the people.

Posted By: Billy J. Allen On: 11/1/2012


Thank you, Governor Piyush "Bobby" Jindal & Secretary of Corrections James M. "Jimmy" LeBlanc for closing C.P.C.C. & ending my 17.5 year career. Boy they sure showed us!,........ In the end it is the same as the beginning, I'm still a man who holds his head high and Piyush 'Bobby" Jindal is still a piece of Garbage.

Posted By: Noel E Boutte On: 11/1/2012

Title: phelps closure

Phelps was a eye sore! My dear friend used to be the warden of security n they have been k nowing a closure was comming! dequincy will be just fine n safer now.

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