Phelps Correctional Center: Changing the Lives of Inmates

May 14, 2007

Reported by: Britney Glaser

It's been 50 years since Phelps Correctional Center in DeQuincy first opened its doors to house about 500 inmates.  Much has changed since 1957, and I had the chance to spend a day at Phelps for a behind-the-scenes look at the Correctional Center today.

The environment at Phelps has changed dramatically over the years, moving from the days of a segregated center where first-time offenders as young as 12 years old would be sent to spend years away from mainstream society.

Now, Phelps houses close to 1,000 male inmates and the day-to-day operations inside this Correctional Center are quite different.

In the welding building at Phelps Correctional Center, inmates take part in two-year programs offered through Sowela Technical College that will teach them a trade that can be used both at Phelps and when these men are released back into society.  Casey Reynolds is an inmate at Phelps, but in a year and a half, he will be back out in society.  Reynolds has found a skill that he is very good at...and it's something that serves as an escape to him at the Correctional Center as he welds in his private booth.  "When I'm back here, it takes my mind away from the prison," says Reynolds.

Reynolds is just one of the inmates taking part in a program that will put him on the right path when he is released.  "You learn a skill that pays good," says Reynolds, "and I'll have something when I return to society."

While you might not think studying can be done behind bars, that's exactly how Jay Broussard spends much of his day while working toward earning his GED.  "When you've got a goal to go to," says Broussard, "you just do it."

Paul Pitre was incarcerated when he was in the 10th grade, but while at Phelps, he has received his GED and is now taking courses in masonry and carpentry.  Pitre says, "I'm not stepping out blind, without any type of trade or any type of skill.  I actually can go forth in one particular area that I may desire to go forth in and actually be successful with it."

Inside the garment factory at Phelps, dozens of inmates spend their days outfitting the state's inmate population.  While some of these men receive a whopping 20 cents an hour (the highest paid position behind bars), the skills they are learning will have a much larger price tag when they're released.

Even 50 years ago, trade courses were offered at Phelps, but not to the extent that they are today for every inmate serving time.  At Phelps, all inmates serve a maximum of 10 years.

Joleen Constance is the Assistant Warden for Administration at Phelps.  She has seen the Correctional Center change for the better in her time at work.  "We have offenders that we will be releasing back into society in a relatively short span of time.  It's very important to us that we change them," says Constance.

Assistant Warden Roy Williams says if an inmate has the drive to want to be a better person, he has every opportunity at Phelps to use his time in a beneficial manner.

Education is just one aspect of Phelps Correctional Center that has changed drastically since 1957.  It's something the staff hopes will positively change society when these inmates are released.