Plaquemines president raises questions about new jail - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Plaquemines president raises questions about new jail

Davant, La. -

On the sparsely populated east bank of Plaquemines Parish rises a jail that the parish president says will be a white elephant.

Plaquemines is building an 800-bed jail after their other facility was flooded by Katrina, seven years ago.  And some wonder whether it will ever be filled.

"We've only got 20,000 people down here.  It's unbelievable... if you look at it, it's as big as the Superdome,"said Parish President Billy Nungesser.

The jail, has been mired in controversy.  It was at the center of a kickback scheme which was the focus of a FOX 8 investigation. That led to a guilty plea and the downfall of former Sheriff Jiff Hingle.  And now the parish president wonders how the parish will pay to staff it.

"Hopefully we can have discussions in the near future, but think it's too late to stop the whole project," Nungesser told us.

FEMA is spending more than $106 million on the new jail, which many hope will provide badly-needed jobs.  Residents say they haven't worked much lately, because jobs are scarce in this part of the parish, especially since the BP oil spill.

But the parish president worries about ongoing expenses and safety during frequent hurricanes.  "It makes sense to house them in a safe area. That's our money to bus them out, and that can happen three to four times a year,"said Nungesser.

Though Nungesser does have concerns about hundreds of inmates each year having to be evacuated due to hurricanes, the U.S. Justice Department says it has no prohibitions against housing its inmates here.  There are also no guarantees that Plaquemines will house and profit from hundreds of federal detainees.

The parish president worries about a monumental burden on parish finances. "I think it will be a financial drain on this parish for many years and we will just have a big white elephant on our hands,"said Nungesser.

The jail could be completed by early 2014.

The Plaquemines Parish Sheriff's Office gave us this statement on the new jail:

Although staffing may initially be a strain on the budget, sheriff Lonnie Greco has already reduced overspending and waste from the previous administration. The sheriff's office plans to staff the prison in stages depending on affordability.

And the sheriff's office says it is now in the process of securing a contract to house federal detainees.

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