Six months later:

JDP jail nearing capacity
Sunday, January 12, 2020
Six months later:

Daily News photos by Allison Cryer
Deputy Winston Guillory demonstrates the Regional Consolidated Jail Facility’s new video visitation system, which allows visitor to connect with an inmate remotely. No civilians other than attorney and medical personal are actually allowed on-site.

Jeff Davis Sheriff’s Office (JDSO) officials recently sat down with the Jennings Daily News to discuss how things were going six months after the grand opening of the new jail facility.

Jail Warden Dustin Locke says the facility is nearing capacity.

After being open for six months, the new jail had 172 inmates as of Monday, Jan. 6, Locke said.

“If every bed is full, capacity is 180 because 20 of those cells are isolation cells or cells that can only be used for certain inmates,” he said.

Inmates can only be held in isolation cells for a period of up to 72 hours.

“We have had to move some inmates around plus I told the city that we needed those five beds back being used for city misdemeanor inmates,” Locke said.

Jennings Police Department Chief Danny Semmes said that while he agrees that felonies should take precedence over misdemeanors, without the jail space, he feels there will be negative repercussions.

“If you don’t have repercussions for someone’s actions, then things can get really dangerous,” Semmes said. “I just want things to work for all of us and hope that the sheriff will accommodate us as soon as possible. I supported the jail wholeheartedly and as a result we would like to see things work where we have bed space and no one is turning people away. We thought that was the reason for the 200 bed facility in the first place.”

Locke said he does not feel that being near capacity is a problem.

“There are still consequences for your actions whether we are full or not,” he said. “We are not going to let any violent offenders or dangerous criminals walk.”

Sheriff Ivy Woods said currently, the jail is working without the operation of two electronic door locks. With those locks out that means around eight beds are out of service.

Woods said the increased capacity has been a huge benefit to the parish.

“It has really helped us to keep criminals off the streets. Before we had to deny some charges, but now we can hold all felonies,” Woods said. “For example, many times during a domestic violence case, we only had room to hold one offender when both subjects showed injuries, especially since we had so little room for female inmates.”

Woods said that currently, all of the parish’s inmate are being housed at the jail, with none being housed at other facilities in the region as was happening before. The parish was spending over $50,000 a month previously housing prisoners in other parishes.

“Now we can keep the most violent prisoners in-house when we used to have to send them away,” Woods said. “Also the old jail only had three tiers. Now we have five plus 20 isolation cells.”

Woods said that so far in 2020, staffing remains one of the biggest challenges.

When asked if the jail is fully staffed, Woods said the jail is currently only one-male staff member short.

“Anyone can apply online, but we will always give priority to our veterans,” Woods said. “Our greatest challenge has been sourcing people to work. We added 17 jailers after moving to the new jail facility and the police jury has been great with helping us with this.”

Another obstacle Woods discussed at the jail is the lack of available treatment options in the parish for those with mental health issues.

“If insurance companies were required to cover mental health issues we wouldn’t have this problem,” he said. “There is simply no place for them to go. We see the same people over and over again.”

Woods said doctors are getting smarter and opioids are getting harder to come by for criminals.

“Because they are cheaper and more easily accessible, we are seeing an increase in meth and heroin in the parish,” he said.

Technology will be the theme of 2020, Woods said, beginning this week with upgrades made to the office’s website. By visiting, anyone can download the sheriff’s department app, as well as learn about services, view a list of sex offenders in the area and see who is currently in custody at the jail.

Another new technology recently implemented at the jail is a video visitation room located off-site. Visitors can either pay a $25 fee online or visit the Sheriff’s Department’s new 911 Center off U.S. 90 for no charge for a 15 mins scheduled video session. Visitors must first call the Sheriff’s Office to set up an appointment.

Deputy Winston Guillory, who mans the video visitation station, said this provides a safe and secure way for visitors to communicate with inmates, while eliminating ways to introduce contraband into the facility.

“The video visitation is a privilege, not a right,” Guillory said.

Plans for 2020 also include a new evidence and file storage room for the department.

“The old storage locker saw water damage during the hurricanes,” he said.

Overall, Woods said he looks forward to 2020 and the possibilities that the new jail provides.

“The new jail has so many benefits, for both the community and for our office,” he said. “This was in the works for a long time and we are thankful to Jeff Davis Parish and the Police Jury for all of the support for the new facility.”