OPELOUSAS — With the police chief hauled before a federal judge and facing the state fire marshal over conditions at the 40-year-old city jail, the Opelousas Board of Aldermen gave the go-ahead Tuesday to start plans to repair and modernize the jail.
“This is not a want. I’ve been written up by the Board of Health, the fire marshal and a federal judge all because of my jail,” Police Chief Donald Thompson told the board. “The judge told me that I better get it right, and I want to tell you right now that I’m not getting indicted for no one.”
Thompson said the federal judge, whom he did not identify, and the fire marshal had issues with the jail overcrowding and its overall condition.
Thompson said he often has as many as 18 inmates sharing one toilet and sleeping on the floor in the jail’s bullpen area.
Because of the jail’s condition, the police chief said, he often has to “cut prisoners loose” and ask the courts for shorter sentences.
The jail, he said, was built for 22 inmates. At the time the jail came under the scrutiny of the fire marshal and the federal judge, it was holding 46 prisoners.
Neither Thompson nor the board discussed cost estimates for the jail improvements.
Jack Tolson, an architect who spoke on the issue as an unpaid consultant, said the chances of receiving grant money for the project are slim at best.
The board, acting on Tolson’s advice, agreed to have architects propose tentative plans and have a group of consultants perform a needs assessment for the jail.
The assessment could cost the city up to $8,000, Tolson said.
In an interview, Thompson said he would like to have the inmate capacity increased to a maximum of 60 prisoners.
“This is not something we have to have this year. What we want to do is just get this started and then leave it up to the (board) to decide what direction we need to take,” Thompson said.
In another matter, the board by a 1-5 vote rejected the unanimous recommendation of the Planning Commission for a developer’s request to build a 60-unit apartment complex inside the city’s historic district.
Before the vote, the board heard from several residents who live adjacent to the proposed low-income Melrose Apartments being developed by Joseph K. Dupre.
All but one of the residents spoke against locating the apartment project on Lourdes Street on the southern edge of an Opelousas area called “The Hill.”
Dupre said residents of the complex would have to undergo thorough background checks. The grounds around the area would be sufficiently maintained on both the outside and inside, he said.
Alderwoman Sherell Roberts said locating the apartments in the Lourdes Street area would violate provisions of a historical district ordinance.
Voting to deny the project were Marvin Richard, Julius Alsandor, Blair Briggs, Roberts and Jacqueline Martin.
Tyrone Golver voted for the project.