Kevin Sack and John Schwartz, THE NEW YORK TIMES
In the exact spot where Hurricane Katrina demolished the Plaquemines Parish Detention Center, a new $105 million jail now hovers 19 feet above the marsh, perched atop towering concrete pillars. Described by a state official as the “Taj Mahal” of Louisiana corrections, it has so much space that one of every 27 parish residents could bunk there.
But on an average day in the first half of this year, more than 40 percent of its 872 beds went unoccupied, making it one of the emptiest jails in the state, records show. And because of its isolated, flood-prone location, the jail still must be evacuated before any major storm or risk becoming an accidental Alcatraz.
There is but one reason the Plaquemines jail was rebuilt on endangered land, with needless capacity, at immense cost: The sheriff wanted it that way. But unlike most new jail construction, his project did not have to be financed through bond sales or other local revenues, with voters able to hold him accountable. Rather, because the old jail was destroyed by a natural disaster, the cost was covered by federal taxpayers, through a Federal Emergency Management Agency program that is required by law to distribute billions in aid but exerts little control over how the money is spent.