Louisiana sports the highest incarceration rate in the country - by a large margin. Considering the state and its lawmakers are doing everything they can to raise and save money, the fact that a task force was created to set their sights on the State’s prison should come as little surprise.
According to the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, Louisiana holds 776 people in prison, per 100,000 citizens. The national average is roughly 50 percent less, at 458 prisoners per 100,000 citizens.
The logic stands that reducing that number would save the state money, which is true to a certain extent. Currently, the Department of Corrections budget sits at a cool $500 million a year.
The task force has come up with several recommendations - some popular, others not so much. A Pew study conducted on the task force’s consensus recommendations would remove 4,817 inmates from Louisiana’s prison system by 2027, saving the sate $305 million.
While discussing parole for life-terms drew scrutiny, reduction in sentences for non-violent offenses and removal of the option for ‘incarceration’ for lesser offenses drew praise.
The proposals have political legs for this session due to Louisiana’s economic climate, and the fact that Louisiana’s moniker of “being tough on crime” is starting to wear thin compared with the cost to incarcerate so many who could be directed through treatment programs or other avenues of service.
Unfortunately, there is another side to this issue - and it starts with a $150 million figure that isn’t attached to the $500 million.
Louisiana spends that $150 million, a year, housing excess prisoners at Parish jails. The type of prisoner varies, but the fact remains that Mr. Ard is compensated - well - for housing those lawbreaking visitors.
Livingston Parish spent $17,000 per day - just for pre-trial inmates - after the flood. Those funds go to the parish government, while the sheriff collects on the DoC inmates he’s housing. Those numbers came about after the Detention Center was shut down after the flood due to a sewer backup, causing the sheriff and the parish to scramble to get it operational again.
As well, they should; it’s a money-maker. A quick study of the sheriff’s budget will show that intergovernmental funds flowing in from DoC roughly match the cost of operating the detention center - a figure of about $2.7 million.
Combine that with money going to the parish government, and federal funds and grants opening up based on the number of inmates you’re housing, and suddenly the prison system is a great way to cover your base costs.
Truth be told, that $2.7 million is only about 10 percent of the sheriff’s budget, as he relies mainly on tax dollars to fund the majority of his operations. But, prisons are necessary, and if a person can find a way to fund necessary items with outside dollars - why would they not?
Especially when the department is tasked with covering 700 square miles, where 75-80 percent of the 150,000 Livingston Parish residents fall under his jurisdiction. The sheriff has very little left in his budget after expenses are covered for the 300 deputies and support staff he employs.
So, the sheriff is probably sweating a bit that the state wants to reduce what it spends on housing these inmates elsewhere, as well as reduce the incarceration rate but suggesting lesser criminals be funneled through other programs.
Those programs cost money, and do nothing to fund the Parish Correctional Facility - which is still necessary for higher-grade criminals.
Hopefully, the reduction in the overall incarceration rate will reduce the overall cost of running the facility, but that’s hard to believe considering the way the current facility is designed - housing as many prisoners as possible in pods, efficiently and with a certain amount of staff needed.
Time will tell, but if other sheriffs and lawmen use their facilities in the same manner, one can only hope that the cuts will come gradually, giving locals time for their budgets to adjust.