Phelps ships out last of its inmates to Angola

The control center at Phelps Correctional Center sat unmanned and wide open Friday afternoon, workers said.

The center, normally the bird’s-eye view from which jailers keep watch over the prison population, is no longer needed.

The medium-security prison shipped out the last of its inmates to Angola State Penitentiary early Friday morning, said Carol Lee Fruge, the warden’s secretary.

She said 58 inmates left the prison before 9 a.m.; after they left, many of the workers, too, began departing.

“It’s a somber, quiet mood around here,” said Fruge, a 17-year veteran of Phelps. “Right now it’s kind of like a ghost town. It’s empty.”

The state surprised Phelps’ 269 workers when it announced on Sept. 14 that the prison, open since September 1958, was to be closed by Nov. 1 as a cost-cutting measure.

Fruge said a “handful” of people will work next week to complete any final tasks that need to be done. She said there is lots of trash that needs to be taken out, but most of the cleaning is done.

She said mental health care workers are tending to inmate files and there is equipment that needs to be picked up. Angola’s staff was at Phelps on Friday morning to take inventory of kitchen equipment and food that the maximum-security prison could use.

While some of the Phelps staff transferred to Angola, Friday was the last day for several who will take leave before officially retiring Jan. 1.

“We’ve said a lot of goodbyes today,” Fruge said.

“I never thought it would come to this. I never thought I would see this day. There’s always going to be crime; there’s always going to be criminals. I never thought this line of work would be in jeopardy. I just can’t believe it.”