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(Rick Hickman / American Press)

(Rick Hickman / American Press)

Allen Parish moving forward on plans for new jail

Last Modified: Saturday, February 09, 2013 6:19 PM

By Doris Maricle / American Press

OBERLIN — Allen Parish Sheriff Doug Hebert III is moving forward with a plan to build a new parish jail and administrative offices on sheriff-owned property west of Oberlin.

The 180-bed facility is projected to cost $8.5 million and will be built with revenues from a gaming compact with the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana. The tribe makes quarterly payments to government entities in Allen Parish.

“We were fortunate when the compact was revised about 10 years ago with the Coushatta Tribe that the first $300,000 to the Allen Parish Sheriff’s Office was dedicated to construction of a new jail,” Hebert said.

Three million dollars, or 40 percent of the project cost, is currently available to build the facility, Hebert said. Additional bond sales and other financing options are being considered to finance the remaining cost.

The parish has been working on building a new jail since 2002, when former Sheriff Hal Turner and the Police Jury deemed the current jail inadequate. Problems with funding and disputes over the location and contracts stalled the project.

Preliminary plans call for a 40,000-square-foot facility to house nearly 180 inmates, more than tripling the capacity of the existing 42-bed jail. Plans for the new facility also include relocating administrative offices to the site.

“Right now our offices are scattered all over,” Hebert said. “For a safety factor, it will be better to have everyone under one roof with a more police presence.”

Hebert hopes to present plans for the facility to the state bond commission for approval in March.

Construction could be under way by the summer and the project completed within a year.

“This is something that has to be done,” Hebert said. “We have to build it. We can’t continue with things in the old jail.”

The current jail, more than 45 years old, is overcrowded and in a state of disrepair, he said.

The new jail would be built on a 40-acre site off La. 26 just west of Oberlin. The property was purchased by Turner, who planned to build a jail there.

The facility will occupy about six acres of the property. Additional room would be used for gardening with future plans to build shops and a vocational training facility for inmates.

The closest residence is about 300 yards away, Hebert said.

By law, the Police Jury is mandated to provide a parish jail, Hebert said.

Plans call for the Sheriff’s Office to build the new jail and lease it to the Police Jury for nearly $250,000 a year. The Police Jury is currently spending $270,000 a year to house inmates in other facilities outside the parish because the existing jail doesn’t have enough room.

“Just with those savings, it is quite possible that the Police Jury and Allen Parish will get a new state-of-the-art facility,” he said. “I think we really have an opportunity to make a win-win for everybody. The Sheriff’s Office will have an opportunity to have more room to put those people who should be in jail in jail and the Police Jury will save on liabilities and operation costs.”

Hebert plans to sell a six-acre site located behind the Sheriff’s Office and near the Oberlin High School football field to the Allen Parish School Board. The Sheriff’s Office purchased the property to build a jail, but residents and parish officials voiced concerns about its proximity to the school.

Allen Parish Jail Timeline

Since taking office in January, Sheriff Doug Hebert III has revived plans of building a new facility. Here is a look back at somehighlights from American Press archives on the project, dating back to 2002:

Nov. 6, 2002

Sheriff Hal Turner and the Police Jury deem the jail inadequate and say it needs to be replaced.

April 23, 2003

The Police Jury applies for a $3.4 million low-interest loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fund part of the cost of building a new jail.

Jan. 4, 2005

Police jurors say they plan to ink an agreement with the Sheriff’s Office to fund construction. State bonding attorney Lonnie Bewley talks at public hearing about a cost-splitting plan. Bewley suggests the Sheriff’s Office pay building costs until 2008 from money set aside from gambling funds. The Police Jury would take over payments in 2009. Bewley says municipalities would be invited to buy bed space to make profits and increase housing availability. The project cost is estimated at $4.2 million.

Jan. 25, 2005

Criminal expenses continue to plague the Police Jury, which is in the planning stages of constructing a 100-bed jail. The opening of the new jail can’t come soon enough, according to Police Jury President Matthew R. Hollins. “We can’t stop these guys from dealing drugs and killing,” he says. “We’re at the mercy of these fellows.”

Sept. 20, 2005

The Police Jury authorizes its architect to proceed with final plans to build a 100-bed jail. The panel gives the OK to Police Jury President Matthew R. Hollins to sign a loan resolution to fund the jail. Hollins says the parish is exploring building hurricane-resistant “tent prisons,” similar to ones in Arizona and Florida. Hollins says he has researched the prisons and that several parishes are considering them.

Oct. 22, 2005

The USDA announces that the parish would receive $2.2 million toward a jail, which officials say would have 100 beds. Parish Engineer Mack Thompson says it will replace an outdated, overcrowded jail. “Our old jail had 40 beds and caused us to have to send prisoners to private prisons at higher cost to the parish,” he says. The old, three-story jail is expensive to heat, cool and maintain, he says. “This was racing to break the parish,” Thompson says.

Dec. 7, 2006

Police jurors decide to seek bids to build a jail at the recommendation of the USDA. Police Jury President Andrew Hayes says the parish doesn’t have finalized plans, but wants to get an idea of the costs. Hayes says the USDA sent police jurors a letter with the bid recommendation. He says the USDA described the jail effort as a “workable project.”

Jan. 23, 2007

Police jurors agree that a new jail is needed, but they are divided on where to put it. During a Police Jury meeting, several ministers and a school principal air concerns about the jail’s proposed location near Oberlin High School. Police jurors decide to look for a second site on 40 acres off La. 26. They still vote, however, to advertise for bids for the first site while studying the costs of the other.

March 6, 2007

Police jurors have yet to decide a location for the jail. Many residents, including members of the Oberlin High PTA, address police jurors. Many of the residents and some police jurors want the jail on 42 acres owned by the parish off La. 26. Others, including Sheriff Harold Brady and Police Juror Sonny Weatherford, think the site near the school is the most financially feasible.

March 21, 2007

Police jurors still haven’t decided the location of the jail, and some say there won’t be a new jail if it’s not built on property close to Oberlin High. Police jurors hold a public hearing, but a site decision is put off until April 2. Police jurors also put off a vote on increasing the borrowed amount to $5.7 million.

April 3, 2007

Police jurors quash plans to build a jail near Oberlin High. The panel votes 5-2 to withdraw its motion from nearly two years ago to build near the school. Members say they will focus on 42 parish-owned acres off La. 26. Police Jurors John Strother and Sonny Weatherford vote against the motion’s withdrawal, saying the panel couldn’t afford to build on the second site.

May 24, 2007

A quorum of Police Jury members, state Rep. Herman Ray Hill and Sheriff Harold Brady gather April 26 to talk about the jail issue — a meeting held without 24 hours’ public notice, as required by law. But Allen Parish District Attorney Doug Hebert says the gathering wasn’t a violation of the state open-meetings law.

June 20, 2007

A blue-ribbon site committee goes to Alexandria as part of a tour of corrections facilities. Police Juror Doug Sonnier says the 200-bed Alexandria jail cost $4.6 million. The architect for it looks over the plans the jail in Allen and says the parish is “building a castle,” a facility unlike anything else in the state, Sonnier says.

Police Juror Kent Fontenot says Oakdale Mayor Tommy Abrusley suggested the parish use a 34,700-square-foot warehouse in the Oakdale Industrial Park as a jail in exchange for setting aside 20 beds for Oakdale inmates. Abrusley tells Fontenot that Oakdale would donate the building.

Aug. 8, 2007

Police jurors and the sheriff and jail warden begin a series of meetings on the new jail.  “It looks pretty good,” Police Juror Matthew R. Hollins says. “I believe by next month’s meeting we will have strong recommendations.”

 Jan. 12, 2008

For nearly a year, talk of a new jail has been stalled after a majority of police jurors abandon the original plan. For months there has been talk of getting with Sheriff Harold Brady to discuss plans, but there have been no meetings. “I don’t know what they are going to do about this,” Brady says. “All I know, it is past time to talk about what is going to be done.”

Jan. 16, 2008

After voting 5-2 last April not to build a new jail near Oberlin High, police jurors decided to go forward with the plan. The panel votes 4-2 to build on the tract that Sheriff Harold Brady said was the “most economical” site choice. Police Jurors Andrew Hayes and Doug Sonnier oppose the plan; Sonny Weatherford, Buddy Farris, Kent Fontenot and John Strother approve. Matthew R. Hollins leaves the room while the vote is being taken and returns after it is counted.

Feb. 20, 2008

The Police Jury votes against building a jail near Oberlin High. Cleopatra Pete, PTA president, suggests parish officials consider building the jail on another site. Voting in favor of the site near Oberlin High are Sonny Weatherford, panel president, and Kent Fontenot and John Strother.

Sheriff Harold Brady is upset with the vote and says the process has taken too long.  “I’ve listened to you go back and forth for years, and tonight you’re backtracking again,” he says. “As sheriff, I believe what’s most economical and safest is the land behind the administration building.”

 March 4, 2008

Police jurors eye a piece of property that is 1,200 feet from the Sheriff’s Office property near Oberlin High that they rejected a month before. The consideration has at least one police juror scratching his head. “We’re going to spend $100,000 more, plus sewage and electricity, to move that jail 1,200 feet,” says Kent Fontenot. “That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”

The proposed privately owned 10-acre tract is on the west side of the Sheriff’s Office in a pasture. Police jurors vote to consider obtaining an option to buy the property. District Attorney Doug Hebert says it is a procedural measure to start the ball rolling on a land appraisal.

Two police jurors — Matthew R. Hollins and Buddy Farris — say they support the move because the land would provide an opportunity for a larger facility and more money for the parish.

March 26, 2008

Sheriff Harold Brady and police jurors plan to negotiate what kind of jail the parish will build. Police Juror Matthew R. Hollins says he would like to explore building a 13,800-square-foot, 202-bed facility similar to lockups in Grant and Rapides parishes. The Grant Parish facility cost about $5 million — almost $2 million less than the jail police jurors are considering. Brady says he has been eyeing a prison in Crowley that has 196 beds and cost about $6 million.

April 23, 2008

Police jurors have yet to choose a site or acquire funding. Lafayette architect Mark Lalande tells police jurors about his project design, which is based on Acadia Parish’s $6 million jail in Crowley. He worked with Acadia Parish Warden Eby Henry on the plans.

 July 22, 2008

Allen Parish police jurors vote to enter into negotiations with URS Engineering to start planning a jail. District Attorney Doug Hebert tells the panel that it can’t finalize the hiring of the firm until a contract is drafted and approved. Police Juror Matthew R. Hollins says he has been impressed with URS, whose representatives gave a PowerPoint presentation of the firm’s services.

 Aug. 2, 2008

Allen Parish police jurors will have to examine a contract agreement it made with Sulphur architect E.J. Ellender before the panel finalizes the hiring of URS Engineering. Ellender, of Ellender Architects & Associates, tells the American Press that his firm has a contract “to design the building and supervise the construction and follow it to the end.”  Police jurors selected Ellender to design and build the jail, and plans were developed to build on property near Oberlin High.

Aug. 6, 2008

Police jurors ask District Attorney Doug Hebert to examine the contract with architect E.J. Ellender and make a recommendation on the parish’s contractual obligations.

Police jurors contracted with Ellender in 2003, paying him $273,000 for plans to build on property near Oberlin High. The plans were scrapped in April 2007.

Sept. 9, 2008

Police jurors vote to terminate the contract with architect E.J. Ellender. District Attorney Doug Hebert Jr. sends a letter to police jurors that advises them that they may cancel or terminate the contract. “If you have not done so, I suggest that you send a formal notification to Ellender in this regard,” Hebert writes.

 Oct. 11, 2008

Police jurors could be in danger of losing USDA funding for a jail. In August, USDA officials told the panel the parish would have until the end of the week to take action on the jail project.

 Oct. 16, 2008

Police jurors decide to build a new jail on the site initially proposed years ago. The decision comes in a 4-3 vote and is opposed by many residents. Despite protests, Police Jurors Sonny Weatherford, Buddy Farris, Kent Fontenot and John Strother favor the site. Andrew Hayes, Doug Sonnier and Matthew R. Hollins oppose it.

Oct. 21, 2008


Police jurors are at odds again over the selection of an architect. A meeting ends with a split vote on the hiring of architect E.J. Ellender and more friction among panel members. Buddy Farris makes a motion to hire Ellender, but withdraws it after seeing he may not have support.

John Strother is absent, leaving six police jurors to vote. Doug Sonnier says he may support Ellender’s hiring, so Farris makes a second motion to put Ellender’s hiring back on the table. But Sonnier, along with Hayes and Matthew R. Hollins, vote against the hiring. Farris, Sonny Weatherford and Kent Fontenot vote for it.

The tie stalls the issue.

Oct. 28, 2008

Panel President Sonny Weatherford says the site for a jail may change again. He tells the American Press that the site is 1,200 feet from the other location, which is 1,500 feet from Oberlin High.

Weatherford said talk of changing the site came at a meeting between himself, Police Jurors Buddy Farris and Doug Sonnier, Sheriff Harold Brady, several deputies and USDA officials.

He says the meeting was “unofficial” because there was not a quorum of police jurors. A public notice of the meeting would have been required if a quorum had attended.

Nov. 4, 2008

Police jurors vote 4-2 to use the site 1,500 feet from Oberlin High that they had selected a month before. Voting to stay with the site are Sonny Weatherford, Buddy Farris, Kent Fontenot and John Strother. Andrew Hayes and Doug Sonnier vote against the motion. Matthew R. Hollins is absent.

Nov. 16, 2008

Petitions circulate throughout Allen Parish in an effort to pressure police jurors to reverse their decision to build a jail near Oberlin High. Resident Cleopatra Pete says she and others want to present the signatures at public hearings set up by the USDA. The USDA has $4 million in low-interest loan money set aside for the project.

March 17, 2009

Police jurors reaffirm their decision on the site for the jail.

Sept. 10, 2009

Discussions about rising criminal expenses lead to more jail talk. Some police jurors, including Doug Sonnier, say a proposed price tag of $8 million is too high. Sonnier addresses the panel with a comparison of Allen’s criminal expenses to those of Jeff Davis Parish. Sonnier says Jeff Davis’ costs are far lower, despite the fact that Jeff Davis has more people.

Oct. 5, 2009

Police jurors vote to dissolve their jail plan and pursue one that some say will cost less and will include more beds.

Oct. 11, 2009

Police jurors scrap plans to build a 150-bed prison. Instead, they will pursue one with about 300 beds. The decision is made after a presentation by the Taxpayers Coalition, a group of local residents who say that more beds are possible at a smaller cost.

Oct. 23, 2009

Police jurors “voluntarily” back away from the $4 million loan set aside by the USDA, saying it “was in the best interest” of the panel. They say they will seek other funding sources for the jail.

Dec. 19, 2011

Sheriff-elect Doug Hebert III says a tough stance on crime is “empty talk” without a new jail, which will be a top priority of his administration.

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