Future uncertain for former St. James detention center

While the St. James Youth Center has shut its doors for good, the future of the building that housed the former juvenile detention center remains uncertain.

Parish President Timmy Roussel said the inmates were transferred Friday from the facility to the new Assumption Parish Juvenile Detention Center in Napoleonville, and none of the facility’s employees are still working there.

Eight of the employees were transferred to other jobs in parish government, while one got a job at the St. James Sheriff’s Office.

However, the majority, 25, either retired, were laid off or dismissed.

Roussel said the parish is exploring different options, including using the site as the home of a regional prisoner work-release program. In addition, he said, several private entities have expressed interest in purchasing the property as a location for a possible nursing home.

“We don’t want to rush into anything because we want to do what’s right and make sure we get our value,” Roussel said.

To sell the property, the parish would have to either put it up for auction or go through a public bid process.

When Councilman Terry McCreary asked Roussel at a meeting this week if the parish had gotten an appraisal of the property, Roussel replied that he expected to hear the results of the appraisal next week.

The detention center had become a burden on the parish’s coffers with an annual operations budget of between $2.5 million and $3 million.

The parish collects a 1-mill property tax that generates about $400,000 a year that had gone toward the detention center’s budget, but Roussel said the parish still had been supplementing the detention center with about $500,000 a year from the parish’s general fund.

The drain on the parish’s budget was the reason parish officials chose not to seek a license to continue operation. All juvenile detention centers in Louisiana had to meet new state-mandated regulations by July 1 to receive their licenses to operate.

The parish will continue to collect the 1-mill property tax, Roussel said, but use the proceeds to pay for parish juveniles who must be housed in Assumption Parish.

Council Chairman James Brazan asked Roussel to look at data from the past five years to determine how much it will cost the parish to house its juveniles at Assumption’s detention center.

Roussel said he was still waiting to hear from Assumption Parish Sheriff Mike Waguespack on a contract for reserving beds for St. James youths at the new detention center.