Why Fund the Library When You Could Build a New Jail?
Last Saturday, residents of the southern Lousiana parish of Lafourche did the right thing and voted down a measure that would have rededicated library funding to the construction of a proposed $25 million jail. People clearly felt strongly about the issue as 1,200 residents put in early votes on Saturday.
A lot was at stake. Had the measure passed, Lafourche’s libraries stood to lose $800,000 every year for 30 years and almost 11 percent of their next year budget. The library system, whose seven branches are financed via revenue from parish property taxes, would have also faced a deficit within three years.
As Library System Director Laura Sanders tells the Tri-Parish Times, Lafourche’s libraries need all the resources they currently have to maintain their buildings’ infrastructure and to keep up with technological advances such as ebooks that are requested by library users. About 43 percent of Lafourche households do not have internet access and rely on the library for such; about half of its residents have library cards.
Lindel Toups, the chair of the Parish Council’s “New Jail Committee,” had contended that the library had more than enough funds and that its budget is “an area that we don’t think is absolutely necessary.” He singled out Biblioteca Hispana, a Hispanic-language segment of the Golden Meadow library branch, as one reason that the libraries’ funding should be redirected to the proposed jail. As Toups said,
“They’re teaching Mexicans how to speak English. Let that son of a b—- go back to Mexico. There’s just so many things they’re doing that I don’t agree with. … Them junkies and hippies and food stamps (recipients) and all, they use the library to look at drugs and food stamps (on the Internet). I see them do it.”
As Sanders noted about Toups, there are some additional reasons that he might be seeking to garner additional funds for the new detention center. Toups has some ”family members that are incarcerated,” according to Sanders, a reference to both Toups’ son and grandson having been charged in 2009 with possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.
Sanders agrees that Lafourche is in need of a new Detention Center. The current facility was built back in 1968 and expanded in 1977; prison officials say that its infrastructure has been “strained 24 hours a day, every day, since it was built.” Since 1995, it has become overcrowded, holding 335 inmates while having a capacity for 244. Overflow inmates are now sent to other parish’s facilities, at an extra cost to Lafourche.
ACLU Questions the Costs of the Proposed Detention Center
The ACLU Foundation of Louisiana has raised concerns about the proposed costs for the jail and requested that the Parish Council commission an expert to review those made by a consultant, Michael LeBlanc. So far, the estimated cost and capacity needs of the proposed $25 million, 540-bed jail are entirely based on the recommendations of LeBlanc, who was hired by the Parish Council as the project’s consultant.
LeBlanc is also an “aspiring architect for the job” which comes with a “lucrative design contract,” according to the Tri-Parish Times. The Louisiana Board of Ethics has said that the architectural and consulting contracts for the proposed jail “are not mutually exclusive” even if the some person (i.e., LeBlanc) were to hold both contracts.
Libraries in communities across the U.S., in the U.K. and in Australia are threatened by budget cuts, even as they, like the libraries in Lafourche, find themselves serving more and more as community centers where people can use the internet, read books and just enjoy some peace and quiet. Especially in view of the need to review how much should be spent on a new jail, here’s to Lafourche voters for making sure that a valued public institution, the library, receives the funding it needs and more than merits.
Photo from Thinkstock