Last Modified: Monday, September 17, 2012 1:55 PMEmployees at C. Paul Phelps Correctional Center in DeQuincy celebrated the career of one of the facility’s assistant wardens on Friday.
They had cake and ice cream as Roy Williams completed what was supposed to be his final day at Phelps, fellow employee Carol Lee Fruge said.
That afternoon, employees received the shocking news that the facility will close by November and many of its employees will be out of work.
When Phelps Warden Robert Henderson called a late afternoon meeting of assistant wardens and supervisors, it was thought to be a send-off for Williams.
Instead, Henderson announced that he had received a phone call from Jimmy LeBlanc, secretary of the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections, to tell him the 942-bed prison will be closing and the majority of its inmates moved to Angola, said Fruge, a 17-year employee who is Henderson’s secretary.
“We never in a million years expected those words to come out of his mouth,” Fruge said.
Fruge said Henderson attended a monthly meeting of the state’s wardens on Wednesday and did not know of the closing until he received Friday’s call.
“That’s been the hardest part of this, we were completely blind-sided,” Fruge said.
It appears the news was a shock to everyone else in this corner of the state, too.
State Rep. Dorothy Sue Hill, D-Dry Creek, said she was expecting a call from LeBlanc Friday about an unrelated matter.
Instead, he told her that Phelps would be closed.
“It just took me totally by surprise,” Hill said. “I had not heard of anything like that.”
DeQuincy Mayor Lawrence Henagan said he was about to leave for New Orleans for a railroad-related event when he heard the news late Friday.
He spent the trip to New Orleans on the phone talking with legislators, who likewise were just finding out, he said.
“What irks me is the way it was handled,” Henagan said. “That’s a pitiful way to handle it, I’ll tell you, and that’s the governor (Bobby Jindal) that’s doing that.”
Jolene Constance, assistant warden for administration who has worked at Phelps for 34 years, said supervisors were told to get the information out to employees because a media release was coming in the next two hours.
They weren’t able to reach everyone.
Carrie Wilson, an 11-year employee of Phelps, said one of her co-workers found out through Facebook, “which was devastating.”
Others found out through news organizations.
“They’re not a bunch of dogs, they’re human beings,” Henagan said.
While closing the prison has been discussed before, employees said the prison wasn’t operating in a manner that would indicate shuttering the doors.
Kenny Naquin, a 26-year employee, said a new fence was recently installed and just last week a new water-system was completed for the prison’s laundry. Currently, the prison is
undergoing a lighting project, he said.
He estimated that the prison has made $1 million in upgrades over the past 18 months.
“You haven’t saved $2.5 million dollars because you just spent a million dollars,” Naquin said.
Constance said that while in the past fiscal year the prison lost 26 positions, it only lost two this year.
“I thought we were going to be able to manage this year,” she said.
Hill said she wants answers.
“No one in authority seems to be able to tell me how the closing of Phelps will save money for the state,” she said.
Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Tony Mancuso said that he “was very disappointed that the prison is closing, particularly with no forewarning” and that he plans to work with the local delegation to plead with the state to reconsider.
He said there are no jobs available at Calcasieu prisons, but that “we would welcome experienced correctional officers from Phelps,” should jobs open.
Workers said they have been given little information about how layoffs will occur. They said they have been told that 92 security jobs will be available at Angola.
Constance lives on prison grounds, so she will be forced to find a new home sooner than expected — with retirement looming she had planned to do so in the next two years — while Wilson said she expects to have to travel outside of DeQuincy to find another state job so she won’t “waste” those 11 years spent in the state retirement system.
Both Fruge and Wilson’s husbands are employed at Phelps, while Naquin’s wife, son and soon-to-be son-in-law also work at the prison.
The employees, too, are like family, Wilson said.
“It’s kind of like a divorce, it’s just heartbreaking,” she said.
Posted By: La On: 9/30/2012
The state hasn't saved money at all by forking out unemployment, SSI and community resources for Phelps employees to find a job when they can't transfer to Angola or anywhere else.
Posted By: ron On: 9/24/2012
Its a shame for so many people to lose their jobs and security base on what Govenor Jindal deems is necessary to save tax payers money that will probably wind up in someones coffers, I would suppose C.Paul Phelps will re-open somewhere down the line under some private run company.
Posted By: Concerned Citizen On: 9/23/2012
Phelps will be privatized quickly. Just check out the big donations that recently have been given to those who will be directly associated with this privatization. Phelps will have a new owner soon. Just put recent publicized facts together and you can see the future of Phelps Correctional Center.
Posted By: Andy On: 9/20/2012
Perhaps the leaders of DeQuincy should start networking and help bring in other opportunities for employment. That's what good leaders do - they're proactive rather than reactive.
Posted By: Bob Zenn On: 9/19/2012
Title: Saving tax money
We all need to save taxes and not more benefits.What would make Phelps people happy?
Posted By: David On: 9/18/2012
Title: dependant on prisons
A majority of any town employment should not be dependant on a prison for their future.
Posted By: Christopher Marceaux On: 9/17/2012
Title: Bobby doing what we elected him to do, trim govt period!
It hurts to lose your job, but when the people have asked for smaller govt and you work for the govt who do you think has a chance of getting cut? You
While this will save 12million for the state I do wish it had been allowed more time to close maybe a year to help people get affairs in order but I see the wisdom in how it was done also. You have a prison with convicted felons. If people know it's closing they will start to leave and find work elsewhere. You can't hire anyone to only to let them go in a few months, so when people begin to leave the job for another job who will guard these felons. This way you have them covered. The felons have to move before the guards, not the guards then the felons. It's hard but we have needed this for a long time (an across the board cut making our state lean). When I voted for Jindal this is what I wanted him to do. I'm glad he's doing it. Inevitably there are people affected by the cut but this is for the benefit of the majority of the state population NOT just a hundred and something people that will have to find another job or retire. Jindal works for the STATE that means what's best for the entire population of Louisiana and all of our collective monies.
Posted By: Brian On: 9/17/2012
Title: Purely stupid
Jindal may not have to worry about being re-elected to another term as governor right now. I can guarantee that votes are gonna be hard for him to come by later on down the road for whatever state or national office he runs for.
Posted By: John Q. Public On: 9/17/2012
Title: I predict
I predict the facility will be closed for a little while, then sold to an independant operator who will re-open it and charge the state to house prisoners on a per capita basis, with a garuanteed minimus population.
Posted By: Concerned citizen On: 9/17/2012
First off, I am not, nor have ever been, an employee of the state or Phelps Correctional Center... this is strictly an opinion of a life long resident of SWLA. I think the emphasis on the 300 people employed is being severely understated... there are not 300 individuals that are alone going through life changing devastation ... for each individual there are a minimum of 3 others lives that will be impacted... wives, husbands, children... so quickly the "300" swells to over 1200... and the same can be said for the 900 inmates and their loved ones... so that number is over 3000 people... and when you take in consideration for the City of DeQuincy, bear in mind that the entire city is based around that prison... from employees to the visitors stopping for lunch at the Dairy Queen. Without the prison, many will have to relocate to find work and the city itself will no longer have the, for lack of a better word "tourism". Which in turn will cripple the
economy of DeQuincy and all the sorrounding towns... the number of people affected now swells beyond count... we continue to be told about how the closure will save taxpayers, YOU and ME, $11.85 million ... however, there is no release on what that money will be spent on... will it provide relocation for displaced employees? Will they help the citizens of SWLA by bringing in another business large enough to employ 300 people? Hardly... it will more than likely go to a pay raise for our under privileged politicians in Baton Rouge... I also read that there were plans to reopen the prison when the budget constraints were eased. Does the $11.85 mil balance our budget? Was that the one thing keeping our state in the red?! Clearly not... so now, when all of the inmates (caretakers) of the grounds are gone, is the state going to hire private companies to keep the grass from over growing and the buildings from falling down? Seems logical, take out the labor that works for a dollar a day & replace with private companies that will charge thousands... excellent way to allocate tax dollars... I think every resident should concern themselves with this matters, because as far removed as you feel you are, this is as close to home as it gets for us in SWLA. I want the governors office to be inundated with calls, demand his reconsideration, because it will affect us all...
Posted By: Jessica Hagler On: 9/17/2012
We are very much like a family here. You have to be close knowing that you have to protect each other, but this was not something that we were expecting to try to protect each other from.
Posted By: Jacob On: 9/17/2012
Posted By: Gary Martin On: 9/17/2012
Probably going bankrupt from all the lawsuits. Place is evil
Posted By: Dwight On: 9/17/2012
Typical, Jindal treats state employees like dirt. Does not have the decency to tell the employees they are being let go before his administration makes the announcement. The Jindal administration made this announcement late on a Friday afternoon so they could miss the prime time news cycle. He's in his second term so he does not have to worry about getting elected. He's just trying to impress the national party with his heartlessness..