Detention center back in sheriff's control

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LAKE PROVIDENCE, La. (AP) — East Carroll Parish Sheriff Wydette Williams has regained control of the management of Riverbend Detention Center. The News-Star reports (http://tnsne.ws/O8znX2 ) an agreement was reached with Emerald Prison Enterprises Friday before the two sides were scheduled to appear in state court.

Judge Michael Lancaster approved the deal to transfer management of the private prison from Emerald, a firm with corporate headquarters in Lafayette and Shreveport, to East Carroll Law Enforcement District, which is controlled by the sheriff.

Williams said the deal will put 100 Riverbend employees back on the sheriff's payroll with insurance and benefits and allow him to reopened East Carroll Parish Detention Center and hire 50 more workers.

The sheriff also estimated both facilities could generate up to $700,000 annually for his department that will be circulated in the parish.

"It's a blessing for our community," Williams said. "It will put people back to work with benefits like insurance and pensions, something we definitely need in our parish."

Former Sheriff Mark Shumate, whom Williams unseated, made the deal with Emerald as a lame duck in March against Williams' wishes.

Under the 15-year deal, Emerald was obligated to pay the district up to $150,000 annually, although that was dependent on at minimum of 1,000 prisoners being housed there. Williams said there haven't been 1,000 prisoners at Riverbend since he took office.

Attorneys Andy Brister and James Paxton filed a lawsuit on behalf of Williams hoping to have Emerald's contract nullified, but Friday's agreement settles the matter.

The settlement was accelerated after the Louisiana Department of Corrections removed more than 350 state inmates from Riverbend in August following a shakedown where drugs, cellphones, homemade knives and other contraband were found.

An Emerald executive accused Williams of orchestrating the shakedown.

At the time, Williams denied the shakedown was an event he orchestrated as a ploy to pressure Emerald to reconsider its contract but rather as a public safety issue.

After removal of the prisoners, the population was reduced to 550.

Williams said he is confident the Department of Corrections will return 350 inmates to Riverbend.

Once that happens, Williams said he will be able to reopen East Carroll Detention Center for another state inmate population. "That could happen in as soon as a month," he said.

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Information from: The News-Star, http://www.thenewsstar.com

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