BATON ROUGE, Louisiana – As the state’s Department of Corrections works to create a more diverse and inclusive management team in an industry historically dominated by white men, officials announced the appointment of a woman on Monday. head of the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, whose inmates have been moved to temporary facilities since the 2016 floods.

Despite repeated promises to move the project forward, construction has still not started to replace the flooded facility at Saint-Gabriel, declared uninhabitable several years ago. But officials said the $ 100 million project would be worth the wait.

In the meantime, the prison will receive its second female supervisor.

Kristen Thomas (photo provided)

Kristen Thomas has been promoted from her most recent position as Chief of Security at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center, a men’s prison also in St. Gabriel. Previously, she served as Director of Mental Health at Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, among other positions at DOC, and holds an MA in Forensic Psychology from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Thomas said she was thrilled with the opportunity and plans to champion the department’s goals, including public safety, reintegration, programming and rehabilitation.

“Director Thomas brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to this position,” DOC Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc said in a statement Monday. He said her track record fitted well with “ongoing efforts to develop a gender responsive correctional program tailored to the unique needs of women in the criminal justice system.”

Recent research shows that a large percentage of incarcerated women report having suffered significant psychological trauma in the years preceding their conviction. Experts argue that prison systems should solve the problem by conducting more research and implementing programs specifically designed to help women recover.

LeBlanc said the new women’s prison presents “a unique opportunity to reimagine what women’s corrections is like” in Louisiana, which could become a model for other states.

So far, most state prisoners are housed in two temporary facilities: an old building in Elayn Hunt and the Jetson Center for Youth in Baker, which had been closed for years before authorities reopened it as a result. floods of 2016.

Women make up a small percentage of the state’s overall prison population, around 5 percent, according to DOC statistics.

Questions about unsuitable and overcrowded conditions at temporary facilities arose in the early months of the pandemic, when cases of COVID among the female prison population increased almost overnight, prompting one of the first examples of mass tests carried out in Louisiana. About 85 percent of women staying in a dormitory tested positive, many without symptoms.

Corrections officials then said construction on the new prison would likely begin in late 2020 or early 2021. But nearly a year later, work has still not started.

Officials said Monday the department is ready to start work; their only delay is the final approval from FEMA, which provides the funding. Federal officials are reviewing an environmental study, and the exact timeline is unclear.

Thomas becomes the third female director in DOC history. Mariana Leger ran the Women’s Prison from 2006-2011, and Venetia Michael oversaw the David Wade Correctional Center in northern Louisiana from 2002-2009.

Thomas replaces Frederick Boutte, who until recently was the only black guard overseeing a state prison in Louisiana.

That changed when Corrections announced Kirt Guerin’s appointment to Hunt in June, a move amid an outcry from a group of former department executives who complained about racial disparities in hiring practices and promotion.

LeBlanc responded to the criticism by promising to continue pushing for more diversity in leadership roles. He also said the ministry was creating a new leadership position to oversee diversity, equity and inclusion.


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