Sheriff seeks garage entrance for inmates

Advocate file photo by LIZ CONDOThe 19th Judicial District Courthouse on North Boulevard in downtown Baton Rouge is seen in this January 2011 photo. Officials on Wednesday discussed  inmate access to the courthouse.
Advocate file photo by LIZ CONDOThe 19th Judicial District Courthouse on North Boulevard in downtown Baton Rouge is seen in this January 2011 photo. Officials on Wednesday discussed inmate access to the courthouse.

East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said Wednesday he would like to see a new garage built in the rear of the 19th Judicial District Courthouse to better handle the coming and going of buses and vans that transport inmates to the downtown facility.

The existing garage, or sallyport as court and law enforcement personnel call it, is located on St. Louis Street — the west side of the court building. The garage opens and closes so deputies can secure the inmates once inside the garage and then process them to holding cells inside the courthouse.

Several times a day, sheriff’s personnel are forced to block traffic on St. Louis Street in both directions for several minutes as the buses and vans enter and depart the sallyport, Gautreaux told members of the 19th JDC Building Commission on Wednesday.

“Not the best situation,” he added.

Gautreaux said he realizes the sallyport had to be placed either on the west side of the courthouse, along St. Louis Street, or on the east side, along St. Ferdinand Street, when the building was constructed. The south side at the rear of the courthouse wasn’t an option because it was blocked by the Municipal Building, he said.

But now that the Sheriff’s Office is in the process of moving from the Municipal Building courthouse into leased space at the Metro Airport’s campus, and plans are calling for the eventual demolition of the Municipal Building, it’s time to seriously consider building a new sallyport on the courthouse’s south side, Gautreaux said.

“There wouldn’t be a flow of traffic there,” the sheriff said during the 19th JDC Building Commission meeting, noting that buses and vans would access the new sallyport from St. Louis side of the courthouse and exit onto St. Ferdinand.

“It’s something that can be done. It’s feasible,” Skipper Post, the courthouse architect, said during the meeting.

The new courthouse building, which opened in the fall of 2010, cost in excess of $100 million to build.

State District Judge Janice Clark, who chairs the Building Commission, wondered who would pay for a new garage.

“The issue’s going to come down to who’s going to spend the money,” she said during the meeting.

No cost figures were discussed.

After the meeting, Clark said, “We would certainly be interested in having some discussions about that (a new sallyport). It should be a top priority for the Sheriff’s Office and the city-parish.”

Gautreaux sent a letter in early January to Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe, other Metro Council members, and state District Judge Mike Erwin, chief judge of the 19th JDC. In the letter, the sheriff said his personnel transport 80-100 inmates a day to the courthouse. In addition, 20-30 East Baton Rouge Parish inmates housed out-of-parish are delivered to the court building, he said.

Gautreaux noted in his letter that plans call for the Municipal Building and the surrounding area of the building to be designated as green space once the Municipal Building is torn down.

“As you continue to plan for changes to this area of downtown, I would like to suggest that to avoid the continuing gridlock on St. Louis as a result of inmate court appearances and better ensure the safety to the public, that you consider construction of a new sallyport in the rear of the building,” he wrote.

The sheriff said a new garage would “significantly minimize the blockages on St. Louis Street” and also “allow for additional working space for the demolition and rebuilding” of the downtown library.

In an interview before Wednesday’s meeting, Gautreaux said there have not been any security-related incidents at the current sallyport.

“It’s not really a security issue with us. It’s not an issue of somebody escaping,” he said. “It’s the inconvenience to the public.”

The Sheriff’s Office hopes to be in its leased quarters on General Chennault Drive by March 1, the sheriff said.