I am not against finding ways to handle and house our juvenile criminals. My concern is with the process in which we achieve the result and revolves around the issue of public disclosure and the lack of advanced open communication by those who have conspired to conceal a new jail from the residents of Judice and Ridge.
In this latest episode of "Fool the Public," an out-of-town company has already secured property in the Judice/Ridge community to build a new juvenile jail ("Hard Sell," May 30). They are so far along in the process that plans have been submitted to parish planning for permitting. Their very first public meeting was Friday, May 18, in which they did a grand dog and pony show to convince the locals just how wonderful the world would be once they opened this new juvenile jail. I do not debate the merits of their program; however, I am appalled at the process.
An out of town company, with the full knowledge and endorsement of our sheriff, perpetrated gross concealment and public deception by not informing the local community in advance of its purpose. There were no advance public meetings nor opportunity for prior public input ' only an after-the-fact meeting to extol the project's virtues.
The Judice/Ridge community is comprised of good, moral, family-oriented people who place great pride in their neighborhoods, their schools, their rural lifestyle, and above all, a safe living environment. These residents are very upset and are well justified in their anger. They were kept in the dark until the deal was just about complete.
Would you allow this type of venture in your neighborhood? Could you imagine the outcry if this were happening in River Ranch, Greenbriar, Broadmoor, Oakbourne or on East Bayou Parkway?
With more than 20 years of developing prisons, I know that to gain support for a sensitive venture you must allow the community full and complete access to the process. To have long term success you must allow community input. You must give everyone the opportunity to express their concerns. None of this was done in a fashion that could have created trust or community support.
Maybe the $10 million state contract blinded all those involved. Whatever the reason, the credibility of this new project is diminished, the public's faith and trust in government has been damaged, and residents' rights have been violated. It's unacceptable for our elected officials to participate in public deception and concealment. If you like the way this was handled, just wait until they begin trying to locate a new parish prison.
(LeBlanc is president of LCS Corrections Services Inc. ' Ed.)
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