Lafayette’s deal for a new jail is dead, but its needs are still growing 

Exterior of Lafayette Parish Correctional Center
The jail has 739 physical beds, but that doesn’t mean it can hold 739 prisoners at one time, as capacity is based not on beds but on classification of inmates. Photo by Robin May

A long-shot bid to use private funds to build a new Lafayette Parish jail is effectively dead, M-P Monique Blanco Boulet confirms to The Current, as the new mayor-president finds fault with how her predecessor planned to pay for the deal.   

Jettisoning the public-private partnership concept pushed by the Guillory administration sends LCG back to the drawing board on building a new parish correctional center, and the delay could jeopardize $52.5 million in state funding set aside for it. That allocation may not survive a tight state budget and Lafayette’s diminished power in Baton Rouge.

In July 2022, M-P Josh Guillory sold a plan to build a new, $100 million jail without raising taxes by relying on a public-private partnership to pay for its construction up front while Lafayette Consolidated Government made annual rent payments for several decades. 

Guillory offered up to $10.5 million a year for the project, which was bolstered by the state funding hauled in by Lafayette’s influential delegation, led by former Senate President Page Cortez, who termed out last year. The proposal eventually drew a winning proposal from megafirm Johnson Controls to finance, build and maintain a new 1,000-bed correctional facility, though Guillory’s administration never delivered on promises to present a detailed plan to the Parish Council by spring 2023. 

LCG was never even close, however, to affording $10.5 million a year for the facility — it had $1.5 million available annually — and Boulet confirms that the two property taxes Guillory tapped to fund the deal couldn’t be diverted from their current uses.

“The question at the end of the day was, ‘If we use the millages that operate the courthouse and the jail, what do we then operate the courthouse and the jail with?’ So those two millages are not viable options to bond out for our match,” Boulet says. 

Jails around the state face the expected impact of new laws that effectively eliminate parole options that have helped reduce the number of people required to be held in jails. Criminal justice backlogs have squeezed local governments and law enforcement agencies alike. Lafayette has had its own share of those pressures, and Boulet and Sheriff Mark Garber continue to see a new correctional center as part of the solution. 

“The sheriff has said many times that if you build a 1,000-bed jail, then 1,000 beds are going to be full,” says LPSO spokesman Capt. John Mowell. “I think sheriffs throughout the country are saying this, so it’s really about just working with the current administration to see if we can find the best design possible that fits the needs of Lafayette Parish.”

Lafayette’s existing jail is already grappling with capacity issues that leave arrested people waiting up to two days just to be booked into the facility, which Garber’s office has primarily attributed to a staffing shortage. Mowell says a new facility designed to modern standards would help maximize the effectiveness of manpower at the jail, a key concern ahead of changing state laws on incarceration.

“Obviously, we’re seeing the need for [a new jail], and the way jails are designed now — to really enhance supervision from a management standpoint — is a lot different than they were designed 40 years ago,” says Mowell. “So, with newer design technologies, stuff like that, you’re able to be a lot more efficient in what you’re designing.”

Building a new jail, and moving the existing facility out of Downtown, has been an ambition among local leaders for many years, who say it is a major opportunity for new investment in the city center. But plans to build the new jail next to the LPSO building on Willow Street have drawn objections from neighbors and local council members, though that did not stop the Parish Council from approving funds to buy the Willow Street land in 2021 and 2023. 

Still, funding remains the central issue to any plans for a new jail, and Boulet says that while the project is a priority, a feasible solution is so far proving evasive. 

“We do not have the exact answer spelled out, but with the potential funding from the state and partnering at the state state level, it’s kind of a make or break time,” says Boulet. “So, [Garber] and I are very much in close conversations about how do we leverage everything we can leverage to make this jail project happen.”