Hundreds of evacuated female inmates transferred to closed EBR youth center

Hundreds of evacuated female inmates transferred to closed EBR youth center

A prison in East Baton Rouge Parish that sat empty for two years is now home to female inmates who were forced out of their old home in St. Gabriel by high water.

Two buses full of inmates from Dequincy near Lake Charles made their way into Baker as 79 women were transferred from the Phelps Correctional Center in southwest Louisiana closer to Baton Rouge.

Helen Burns is one of the more than 1,000 inmates who had to be evacuated from the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women in St. Gabriel nearly a month ago when the floodwaters started rising.

"It was almost unbelievable and amazing. I've been incarcerated 19 years and I couldn't believe I'm being evacuated out of that prison to another facility where I didn't know particularly where I was going," Burns said.

Burns remembered it was right around lunch time when they were told to pack two bags and be ready to go at a moment's notice.

"They had water up to halfway my boots so we had to walk up on the bus. They didn't have a parking lot. It was totally under water," Burns said.

Since WAFB first aired pictures of what the women's prison in St. Gabriel looked like with floodwaters inside and mold growing from the tables, no one else was allowed inside the prison for safety concerns.

Now, the Department of Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc said because the water remained high for two weeks, the foundation may be jeopardized. He said the women's prison is valued at $40 million. Depending on how bad the damage is, the inmates may never return to the women's prison.

"If it's $40 million and it costs $20.1 million to renovate, they condemn it. They say it's not worth the effort to invest that kind of money in a facility that was build back in the 1970's," LeBlanc said.

It is why the Jetson Youth Center, which was shut down in 2014, was cleaned by inmates from Dixon and Rayburn and prepared for some of the female inmates and DOC employees to come closer to Baton Rouge. Hundreds of others, however, remain evacuated to prisons across the state.

"We thought we could go to Phelps and stay a few days and go back to LCIW, but that's not the case. We're challenged now with finding a place for the female offenders," said LeBlanc.

As of Sept. 9, more than 130 inmates are at Jetson. By the end of next week, the prison will house 280 women.

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