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Penal Farm’s future eyed

by Minden Press-Herald

The Webster Parish Police Jury is giving some thought as to what to do with the years long vacant Webster Parish Penal Farm.
In the buildings and grounds committee meeting Tuesday, juror Randy Thomas asked his fellow jurors to start thinking about the penal farm and other properties they own to see what they have and what should be done.

He wants to see where they are, if any updates need to be done and look at maintenance and safety.

“I picked the penal farm and the warden’s house,” he said. “The P-farm is about 410 acres, and what I had in mind was not the whole 410 acres but down where the prison was and the warden’s house. To me, it’s just a piece of property that’s nothing but just a liability to the police jury and the citizens of the parish.”

Parish attorney Patrick Jackson says in the original agreement between the police jury and the Webster Parish Sheriff’s office under the leadership of former sheriff Ted Riser, the police jury intended to maintain the property as a backup if anything fell through with Bayou Dorcheat Correctional Center.

“Now that Sheriff (Gary) Sexton’s been there, we’ve just had absolutely no problems keeping up that agreement,” he said. “That was the only reason y’all mothballed the agreement was to be prepared if you needed to.”

Jury president Jim Bonsall, who along with other jurors, has toured the facility and feels the best option, if for whatever reason they had to house parish prisoners other than Bayou Dorcheat Correctional Center, would be to bulldoze it and build from scratch.

“It’s not really feasible,” he said of trying to bring the building back up to code, “and not good for anything except maybe for storing something.”

Sexton says the agreement now between the jury and the sheriff’s office is a flat rate for them to house parish prisoners. The jury pays the sheriff’s office $90,000 per month to house up to 150 parish inmates, and any over that number is absorbed by the sheriff’s office.

As far as the penal farm is concerned, he says returning to it is not an option.

“The Penal Farm would not be a backup option,” he said in a separate interview. “That facility is antiquated. It is old, and it would not pass standards. It was basically dismantled, and it would take more money to get that facility operating than to start from ground zero and rebuild.

“Myself and the police jury have a good working relationship,” he continued. “We have no problems, so we don’t have a need for a plan B. Right now, we’re in good shape in the parish as far as being able to house our inmates and take care of them.”

BDCC is under a 50 year lease by the sheriff’s office from the Louisiana Army National Guard and the State of Louisiana. BDCC has been operational for 14 years now, with 36 years left on the lease.

The Penal Farm, the old Crichton farm, was established in December 1928 and was intended to be a fully functioning farm worked by inmates. It was that way until 1996, although it wasn’t fully self-sufficient.

When Riser took over as sheriff, Sexton says he sold the cattle on the farm and stopped the large scale farming operations.

“They went out and grew small patches of food,” he said. “You could just almost raise the produce as cheap as you could buy it. The penal farm actually closed in 2002. They moved the inmates from there to BDCC in the latter part of 2002, the first of 2003.”

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