Three wings of the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison were closed in 2018 because of safety concerns for both guards and inmates — the latest addition to a growing list of reasons officials present as evidence the parish needs a new jail.

Complaints over the current facility's outdated design are nothing new. The prison, built in 1965, hasn't seen significant renovations since the late 1980s.

Warden Dennis Grimes said he closed three of the jail's oldest wings in May and doesn't anticipate reopening them. He said the decision arose from incidents that put both guards and inmates in danger. The Sheriff's Office didn't comment further on those incidents or the decision.

Officials have long decried the lack of surveillance and poor sight lines inside the facility, which typically houses around 1,500 inmates. The ceilings are too low to install enough surveillance cameras and poor design sometimes makes it difficult for guards to monitor what inmates are doing. 

Grimes said closing the wings where those security issues were the worst — A, B and C wings — has affected about 200 inmates, who were moved to other areas of the jail. 

The parish already houses several hundred inmates in jails outside the parish because of space constraints, which is inconvenient for their families and requires transport for court appearances and attorney consults. 

The Sheriff's Office runs the jail but the parish owns it. Finding the funds to build a new jail will not be easy. Voters rejected a number of proposed tax measures over the past several years.

Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said in May he hopes to address the issue within the next two years because eventually federal authorities are going to step in and mandate that East Baton Rouge build improved facilities. Then locals will be on the hook to pay for improvements without having as much input into the design.

Complaints about the current space reignited at a Metro Council meeting on April 25 when the council approved a settlement with the relatives of David O'Quin, who died in East Baton Rouge Parish Prison five years ago after being tied to a chair for almost two weeks. His restraints contributed to the formation of blood clots, which ultimately killed him.

"I wish I wasn't even in the prison business to tell the truth," Gautreaux said at the meeting. "There's so much that we need out there."

The nonprofit Promise of Justice Initiative released a report in August that studied deaths inside the jail between 2012 and 2016 and found they occurred at a rate 2.5 times the national average. The authors argue the jail's substandard conditions often become especially harmful for people experiencing mental illness — another issue officials have long acknowledged.

Voters in December did approve a property tax that will fund a new mental health crisis center where law enforcement can bring people who need emergency treatment instead of booking them into jail. Officials hope that will help with overcrowding in Parish Prison, which isn't adequately equipped to address serious mental health problems.

Follow Lea Skene on Twitter, @lea_skene.