Our local jails don’t get much attention.

Unless you work at one or you have a family member who is confined to one, you might not think about them at all.

Our jails are an important part of our criminal justice system. They are necessary, and they must be built in a way that protects the safety of those who work there and those who live there. And they must do all of that within the confines of the public revenue streams that pay for them.

It is a tall order, but it is one that the sheriffs in Terrebonne and Lafourche have eagerly accepted.

Both our local jails are going through enormous changes.

In Terrebonne, budget constraints led to the closure earlier this year of the women’s jail that was renovated in Ashland. Sheriff Jerry Larpenter moved the women inmates to empty parts of the men’s jail. But now he is trying to put the old women’s jail to good use – perhaps accepting federal prisoners to create a new source of revenue for his department.

In Lafourche, the situation was much more dire. The current jail is unsafe for inmates and workers, and a host of structural problems made it increasingly unsanitary. But construction on the new jail is proceeding and should result in the facility’s opening later this year.

“The misconception of the public is that we’re building a nice jail for inmates, but our people have to work here, too,” Lafourche Sheriff’s Office spokesman Brennan Matherne said. “It’s not just for inmates. We have to take care of our own people. It will have a locker room for our corrections officers, a break room and meeting room.”

Matherne makes an excellent point. Jails aren’t a luxury; they are a necessity. And when they are built, they should allow for the maximum safety for inmates and guards alike.

Lafourche’s new $40 million jail, which is being built to hold up to 600 inmates, should allow a huge upgrade in both.

In a perfect world, perhaps, we wouldn’t have to figure out a way safely to house so many inmates. But our current state of affairs makes it part of our public responsibility. Eventually, sentencing reforms and other criminal justice changes should create less of a demand on our jails.

When that happens, our local law enforcement professionals will adapt for the good of their workers and the inmates they oversee.

For now, they seem to be doing the most they can with the little they have. And that’s as it should be.

 

Editorials represent the opinion of the newspaper, not of any individual.