Judge Yeager warned police jury of need for new jail in 2011

RAPIDES PARISH, La. (KALB) - We are continuing with our coverage of an issue brought to light by Rapides Parish Sheriff William Earl Hilton about jail overcrowding at the DC 1 jail, that's the pretrial facility connected to the courthouse.

You'll remember that someone called the fire marshal on the jail last week. The sheriff blamed Judge Tom Yeager for putting people in jail with high bonds and the district attorney's office for not prosecuting fast enough.

As of Tuesday morning, those inmate numbers continue to rise. The current count is 382. That is 34 inmates over.

"We just have an issue and of course, with all of us working together, we got through it like last time, and we'll get through it this time," Sheriff Hilton told the police jury Monday evening.

Hilton said he was required to tell the police jury when the jail exceeded the numbers allowed by the fire marshal. His message got the attention of the police jury.

"Please look over your funding really quick," said Craig Smith, president of the police jury, to the other members. "I expect in the next couple of days we'll have a special to address some of the issues here."

This isn't the first time the issue of jail overcrowding has been brought to the attention of the police jury. Back in 2011, it was actually Judge Yeager who brought the issue to the forefront.

In January 2011, Judge Yeager told the police jury that a new jail was needed, saying, "This is the problem. This is what we need. This is how much it's going to cost. Let's go to the public and see if they want to invest in public safety."

Yeager took it a step further, he even gave suggestions how to fix the problem. He said in 2011 that 874 beds for pretrial prisoners were needed and suggested building medium and minimum security facilities. He said it would be cheaper to construct those and staff them.

The police jury at the time worried about the cost to taxpayers, but said they understood the need. A public safety committee was formed in March of that year, and the group planned to visit other larger cities. But, ultimately, not much was ever done.

Flash forward to this week, and criminal Judge Mary Doggett and Judge Greg Beard, who will soon to join the criminal bench, explained why there was a need to boost the bond costs so people don't keep re-offending.

Judge Doggett gave an example about the low pre-set bond for the charge of possession with the intent to distribute heroin.

"Two months later, possession with the intent to distribute heroin, $10,000, they bond out. It doesn't make sense and there is nothing in our system to flag that person and say he has violated the bond conditions three times, lets up his bonds," she said. "So, what we wanted to do on a very temporary basis was come in and remove pre-set bonds and start looking at each bond separately."

Judge Doggett also defended the decisions of Judge Yeager.

"There is a new law that says if you are on bond for possession with intent and you fail to show up for your court date, you are not given another bond," she said. "And, that is what Judge Yeager did the other day."

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