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|Toney defends move to West Monroe|
Ouachita Parish Sheriff Royce Toney says the sheriff's office's plans to move some of its operations into the former Ridgedale Academy in West Monroe will help the area near the former private school, not hurt it.
Several residents who live on or near Ridgedale Road disagree, and they are not pleased with Toney's plans to house up to 200 work-release inmates as well as the sheriff's office's patrol division and other personnel at the former Ridgedale Academy.
Those concerned Ridgedale Road residents let Toney know about their apprehension over the sheriff's office buying the former private school's facilities. They expressed their concerns at a news conference Friday at the old school.
Alice Prophit, a resident who lives behind the former Ridgedale Academy, believes people will move out of the neighborhood because of the sheriff's office's plans to move in.
"When you plan communities, you don't usually plan work-release programs and things such as this right where you build schools and have residences," Prophit said. "You put them in other places. That's our concern."
"We're taxpayers and there should have been discussion about this," Prophit said. "We support what you do, but we don't want it here."
"I live in a neighborhood where our (property) values have stayed good," she said. "We don't want our values to go down. I'm afraid a lot of people will move out and others won't want to move in."
During the news conference, Toney tried to quell residents' fears by stressing he would not place a jail in their neighborhood.
Toney said housing the sheriff's office's patrol division at the old school would mean 150 deputies would be coming and going from that facility once it opens in seven months.
The neighborhood in which the former Ridgedale Academy is located has suffered from high crime over the years, according to Toney. He estimated the sheriff's office had made roughly 3,500 arrests in the area over the past couple of years.
"My deputies' presence here will help this area, not hurt it," Toney said. "You will see more protection over here than you can shake a stick at."
"These guys (deputies) will be coming in and out of here seven days a week, 24 hours a day," he said.
The sheriff's office recently bought the former Ridgedale Academy and the 14 acres it sits on for roughly $190,000.
The facility has two separate buildings, and encompasses roughly 34,000 square feet. One of the buildings will house the sheriff's office's work-release inmates after they return from their jobs. The other facility will house the sheriff's office's entire patrol division as well as other personnel, such as the sheriff's SCAT team and ICE team.
"This place has some high potential," Toney said. "We're going to turn this eyesore into a really nice facility, and I think the neighbors will be proud of it."
One of the concerns expressed by residents was having inmates housed in the facility, which is located in the middle of their neighborhood.
Toney said inmates who are allowed to participate in the sheriff's office's work-release program are not violent offenders. He said they work in the community as part of the sheriff's office's efforts to rehabilitate inmates before they are released from jail.
Toney stressed that the inmates would not be allowed move about freely in the neighborhood.
"That work-release program is a fantastic deal," Toney said. "I want the citizens to be aware that we're not bringing a jail into this community. We're bringing inmates who are already in the public, unsupervised, except for the employers who they work for. These guys are about to be released. They are nonviolent offenders, and they have to be selected by the Department of Corrections (to participate in the work-release program). We charge them for their housing, food and transportation to and from their work."
Last year, the sheriff's office brought in more than $1 million from the inmates involved in the work-release program, Toney said. That money is used to buy patrol cars, weapons and training of deputies.
He said inmates involved in the work-release program need minimal security. There will be no jail cells at the facility nor security fencing around the campus, according to Toney.
If any of the inmates in the work-release program cause problems, they are returned to jail and never allowed in the program again, Toney said.
Work-release program inmates must remain drug-free and alcohol-free to remain in the program. The inmates also are involved in various rehabilitation, educational and religious programs to make their transition into society smoother, Toney said.
"These guys want to work," Toney said. "They want to make some money, and they don't want to come back to jail when they get out. I don't want them to come back, and the taxpayers shouldn't want them to come back because they foot the bill."
"The inmates foot the bill here (work-release program), and the taxpayers foot the bill at the jail," he said. "This is a win-win for the taxpayers."
Though Toney spoke to a handful of residents about their concerns, it appeared were not pleased with what they heard.
One man told Toney he was an employer who hires work-release inmates. He supports the program, but he told Toney he did not want it in his neighborhood.
Currently, the sheriff's office has roughly 100 businesses in Ouachita Parish that participate in the work-release program. About 20 percent of the inmates who work at the businesses are eventually hired full-time when they are released, Toney said. He said the parish must find ways to keep its inmates from returning to prison in light of Ouachita Correctional Center's 85 percent recidivism rate.
Many of the inmates incarcerated at OCC are there for their third or fourth offense, according to Warden Brian Newcomer.
The Ouachita Parish Police Jury has grappled with overcrowding at the parish prison due in large part to the high recidivism rate among parish prisoners.
The overcrowding at OCC also has contributed to financial concerns for the police jury as OCC posted a $600,000 deficit at the end of the 2009 fiscal year. Parish officials expect OCC will post another $600,000 deficit at the end of the 2010 fiscal year.