Louisiana breaks ground on new women’s prison

By: - September 1, 2022 5:43 pm
a fence topped with barbed wire


Louisiana broke ground Thursday on a new $149 million women’s prison in St. Gabriel meant to replace a correctional facility damaged during widespread flooding in the Baton Rouge area in 2016. 

The new building will have enough beds for 938 people and have more space for vocational training and rehabilitation classes than the old prison, officials said in a press release. It will also include a postpartum wing, where incarcerated people who give birth in prison can spend time with their new babies. 

The facility will be the first new Louisiana prison to be open in decades. The state hasn’t built a correctional center since the early 1990s, when it partnered with outside operators to construct two privately-run prisons, one of which no longer houses state inmates.

The Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women project has faced criticism for being a boondoggle. The project has faced significant delays over the years and ballooned in cost. The state initially estimated the facility would cost $100 million to build. Now, it has a price tag nearly 150% of that original estimate. 

Louisiana will cover most of the construction expenses, hough the original women’s prison was destroyed during a natural disaster. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is only putting up $44 million for the rebuild, leaving Louisiana to come up with the remaining $105 million.

Some of the increase in the project price can be attributed to construction becoming more expensive. The COVID-19 pandemic created a shortfall of concrete, wood and other building materials. Ongoing recovery from major hurricanes in Louisiana in 2020 and 2021 also mean skilled construction workers are in high demand.

The rebuild of the women’s prison also wasn’t expected to take so long to get off the ground. Prison officials have said the project was delayed because the state needed to convince FEMA to fund an entirely new prison after the flooding. The federal government initially only wanted to pay for the old building to be cleaned and fixed up. 

The new women’s prison isn’t expected to open until the end of 2024, which means women prisoners will continue to go without a facility of their own for at least another two years.

Since the 2016 flood, incarcerated women have been split up and spread across other correctional facilities that aren’t designed to meet their needs. Some have stayed at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center, a men’s prison next door to the site of the new women’s prison in St. Gabriel. Others have been housed at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, the state’s largest maximum security prison, which typically only houses men. Still others are kept in the old Jetson Center for Youth in Baker, a juvenile facility that was initially shuttered several years ago.

Incarcerated men and women aren’t allowed to mix with one another, meaning that the women that are being housed in prisons with men are kept separate from the general population.

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press.