Inmates in training program do work on judge's house
Program is to teach construction skills
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
By Leslie Williams
Two Orleans Parish Prison inmates participating in a government-financed program to learn construction skills were put to work Monday and Tuesday at the Octavia Street home of 1st City Court Judge Angelique Reed.
The assignment, though, didn't come directly from the Opportunities Industrialization Center of Greater New Orleans Inc., which operates the training program, the head of the nonprofit said.
Philip Baptiste, the center's executive director, said he "loaned" the workers to the judge's uncle, David Reed, an OIC contractor who owns a private company overseeing construction of an addition to his niece's home. But Baptiste said he did not know Reed intended to dispatch the inmates to the judge's home. It's "improper involvement," Baptiste said after he was asked about the inmates who, under the supervision of a criminal sheriff's deputy, were seen standing next to Reed's pool Tuesday morning.
Baptiste said OIC's program, which does not pay the inmates an hourly wage, is designed to give them skills to help prevent them from returning to criminal activity once they're released. The program is not to benefit any politician or public official, he said.
Angelique Reed could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
David Reed said he asked Baptiste if it was OK to take a couple of inmates to one of the job sites managed by his private construction company.
David Reed said Baptiste said yes. But, "he didn't know where I was taking them," Reed said. "I thought I was doing good."
The inmates were sitting around the jail doing nothing, David Reed said. This was an opportunity to get more hands-on training, which is what the OIC construction program is about, he said.
On Tuesday, David Reed said he had the inmates "doing exploratory digging for the footing for the addition," near the pool.
After a visit to the judge's home by The Times-Picayune and the Metropolitan Crime Commission on Tuesday, Baptiste said he ordered the inmates off the site.
"They'll attend classes," he said.
Anthony "Tony" Radosti, vice president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, said his organization is investigating the matter.
"We received complaints (from the public) Monday and Tuesday," Radosti said.
In past years, the OIC has received about $300,000 from the Louisiana Legislature and $450,000 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for its building program, Baptiste said.
In a report to the U.S. Treasury Department, OIC describes the program as "development of viable urban communities, decent housing, suitable living environments and (a program to) expand economic opportunities principally for persons of low to moderate income."
Inmates for the program are provided by Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman's office, which screens them based on their suitability for what Baptiste called a "second-chance" program.
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Leslie Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (504) 826-3358.