Immigrant detainees arrive

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Winn Correctional Center will house up to 1,100 federal immigrant detainees and undergo a $6 million renovation in the form of new roof and air conditioning. Google photo

Correctional facility transitions to house federal immigrant detainees

By Juanice Gray, jgray@natchitochestimes.com

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Winn Correctional Center has relocated all but 20 of its prisoners to other locations. Those 20 Class A trustees are being retained to maintain operations of the Winn Parish Sheriff’s Office chase team. The trustees will continue caring for the dogs and horses used on the chase team to track down suspects.

Oh, those 20 are not the only ones at the center, and the center is not closing. In fact, the facility is in prime position to expand, and in doing so boost the local economy. How are they exporting prisoners and expanding at the same time?

The Correctional Center has become a detainment center for illegal immigrants.

Winn Parish Sheriff Cranford Jordan, who only a few years ago was unsure of the future of the prison, said immigration services was looking for locations to house the detainees and they liked the isolation and privacy offered in Winn Parish. To understand the future impact of the center, one must look at its history. In 2015, Corrections Corporation of America had a contract to operate the location as a private prison. That year they issued a 90 day notice of their intention to move out.

“I was contacted to take it over and declined, then I met with the Dept. of Corrections and others and they asked again for me to sign a contract to take over. “I knew there were 300 or so jobs at stake and I learned during that time that the corrections center was the City of Winnfield’s number one water customer and knew we couldn’t lose that revenue so I agreed,” Jordan said. Jordan signed a contract with the state to become overseer, then subcontracted the management to LaSalle Corrections of Ruston.

“With the new state laws to decrease inmates, our numbers were going down,” Jordan said. “So when ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) made their offer to house detainees, we saw an opportunity.” Jordan met with representatives of the DOC, Sheriff’s Office Associations and LaSalle Corrections along with Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc in Baton Rouge May 28 to discuss the venture. They signed the new contract May 29 and began receiving federal detainees May 30. Most are transported to Winn from a distribution center in northern Mississippi. Jordan said the most they have received at a time is a bus load of 130.

“There were considerable benefits for the employees and the economy. The state pays a day rate of $24.39 per inmate. The detainees are federal and they pay $65 or more per day,” Jordan said. The employees will see raises from $10 to $18 per hour and will have paid benefits and a retirement plan. “The trickle down benefits the economy of Winn Parish, but not only Winn, there is Natchitoches and others that have employees at the center. The employees will have more money to put back into the local businesses,” he said.

The new contract was signed for five years with an option for five more and comes with other bonuses. “The center has needed repairs for a while, mainly a new roof. We will get those needed repairs and also, the only requirement to house federal inmates, or detainees, is the facility must have air conditioning. We will get the roof and air, which is over a $6 million benefit in the form of renovations,” Jordan said. The new roof comes with a $1 million price tag and the air conditioning totals $5 million. He said the only issue they’ve had since the detainees began to arrive is the language barrier. “We have hired interpreters to take care of that,” he said. “In fact, the detainees are very complacent and frankly, easier to handle than inmates.”

As of Monday, June 10, the center housed approximately 800 detainees and that number is expected to climb to 1,100. With increased detainees will come the need for additional staff. There are currently 230 employees and that number is expected to top out at 300.

With the transition comes other changes. There will be eight courtrooms incorporated into the facility. “There will be all federal judges (presiding) and they will have the hearings at the facility to decide to send the detainee to another facility or have them deported,” Jordan said.

Keith Deville has been warden at Winn Corrections since 2015 and will retain his position. “He is a good, honest, Christian man who does an excellent job and is good to work with.” Jordan said. “Even though in the beginning it looked bad to get into the prison business, it’s becoming an opportunity. I feel we are doing our part to support the President, but mostly we’re helping our people right here in Winn and surrounding parishes.”