Judical referral facility in Lacassine
By Bengt Lindell
Welsh Citizen Editor
Many raised concerns when plans of a judical referral facility in Lacassine for men who have had trouble with the law.
Residents in Lacassine addressed the Jefferson Davis Parish Police jury regarding the plans.
Also Jefferson Davis Parish School Board aired their negative opinion regarding locating the facility near the service road south of Lacassine.
“The facility is needed, but not here,” was the common opinion. Founder Lee Mallett, however, fulfilled his plans to construct a training academy at the site.
The Academy of Training Skill has now been open since April of last year. Roy Babineaux, administrator of the academy, claims that relations with the community have improved since the start.
The facility has 48 spots, and only one is vacant at the moment. Plans are already in the works to increase the number of beds to 200. The academy’s residents, as Babineaux prefers to call the men who live there, are non-violent criminals. No men with records of violent or sex-related crimes are accepted into the facility. Roy Babineaux says that their guests come from across the state. Their backgrounds vary, but many have a second or third DWI, failure to pay child support, or simple burglaries in their luggage. Some are recruited from the prisons. Others are sent there by district attorneys or judges.
The residents live in a barrack with bunk beds. They share one big shower room and a big bathroom with several commodes. No walls divide the toilets from each other. “We built it to be easy to keep clean,” Babineaux explains. There’s no fence surrounding the training academy, but the area is constantly monitored by security staff. An advanced security system with cameras and monitors is constantly surveying what’s going on inside and outside the buildings. Babineux mentions that some of their guests, who have jail time experience, claim that the training academy is “like a Hilton Hotel” compared to many prisons. However, words like comfort or privacy may not be the first words that come to one’s mind on a visit there.
What they get is a job, a chance to clean up their financial situation, tools to improve their personal situation, a bed, clothes, plus three meals per day.
The academy provides their residents with a job, brings them there, and brings them back. When they receive a pay check, it is mailed or handed to the academy’s personnel.
Some of the residents work at the academy founder’s (Lee Mallett) construction company in Iowa, while others work in Lake Charles or in Jeff Davis Parish.
The guests pay $301 per week for the accommodations. They also have to pay fines and other debts including child support. Whatever is left is deposited in an account belonging to each resident. “Our goal is to graduate our residents from the academy with a job, and a few thousand dollars in a bank account, Roy Babineaux says. All transactions are carefully documented. Roy Babineaux hopes that The Academy of Training Skills soon will be certified by The American Corrections Association. The Department of Corrections and Safety is monitoring the programs offered at the training academy.
Not many have yet graduated from the Academy of Training Skills in Lacassine. “We have only been open since April and the average time a guest needs to be here is at least a year,” Babineux says.
About ten of the residents have moved out so far. Some of them are doing well, while others still have issues sticking to rules outside the correctional system.
“If a graduate contacts us and asks for assistance, I think that is a success, too,” Roy Baineaux says. A couple of them have returned for a few days, just to get help to straighten out issues they are dealing with, according to Administrator Babineaux.
While on campus guests have to do a daily breathalyzer test. Drug tests are performed randomly on a weekly basis.
“Anyone who fails these tests looses their place here,” Roy Babineux states. The academy has strict rules, and if someone tries to bend these rules it is taken care of immediately. The facility has not dealt with any major conflicts so far. One resident, however, escaped last week. He had requested to be transported back to Calcasieu Parish Jail, but escaped during the transport. He was captured by law enforcers a few hours later. Most guests know that the risk of loosing a place at the academy is only a phone call away.
The guests also have mandatory counseling sessions during their stay. Some may have issues with drug abuse, or other personal problems. Others receive anger or relationship counseling. These sessions are made possible through an agreement with Jeff Davis Addictive Disorder Clinic in Jennings.
Spiritual guidance is also offered and a sermon is held on the premises every Sunday.
The academy also has a contract with Welsh Family Practice, which offers medical service to men residing at the training academy.
Food is brought into the academy by a third party vendor. They serve breakfast and supper at the academy, while a bag lunch is usually sent with the guests who spend the daytime working.
Administrator Roy Babineaux has a long experience of working within the correctional system. He has also worked at a halfway house in Lafayette.
“I think in a few years the Department of Corrections will more go our way,” Babineaux says
The prison system is a costly “business.” So, how much is The Academy of Training Skills costing the tax payers?
“We have no tax funding what so ever. In fact, we don’t want any money from the state,” Roy Babineaux states. The $301 per week covers housing, meals, transportation, counseling, medical consultations, etc.
Roy Babineaux states that some guests’ accounts may be in “the red” initially. He exemplifies with two new gusts who have appointments at the Welsh Family Practice. The health provider will not bill the patients, but the owner of the academy. Eventually the residents account will go into “the black.”
Roy Babineaux believes that the future looks bright for their concept. “If a father refuses to pay child support, why put him in jail? He won’t make any money there,” Babineaux states and continues, “Here he can get a job, and we will make sure that he starts paying. We also offer the individual the tools to start building up a positive relationship with his children. It’s a win-win situation.”
So far the Academy of Training Skills is the company’s only facility in Louisiana. However plans are to expand to other areas of Louisiana and eventually offer the service out of state.