The United States has the highest per capita rate of incarceration in the world. Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in America. Ergo, Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the world, according to a report by the U.S. Justice Department.
On the other hand, more than 17,000 of Louisiana’s 40,000 prison inmates are being held in parish prisons and the local sheriffs who receive $24.39 per prisoner per day love the arrangement. The total cost of local housing of adult offenders is a staggering $158.4 million with the state’s adult release program costing an additional $20.2 million, according to budget figures contained in HB-1 of this year’s legislative session.
The $158.4 million includes $152.6 million for actual housing, $3.7 million for inmate medical payments, $1.6 million for law enforcement district debt retirement in Morehouse and Natchitoches parishes, and $600,000 for additional payments of $3 per day per inmate for the Intensive Supervision Program.
The 17,000 state prisoners housed in parish jails in Louisiana is more than double the next two highest number—the 7,900 state prisoners held in county jails in Tennessee and 7,300 Kentucky prisoners held in county facilities.
Local sheriffs relish the opportunity to house state prison inmates because it infuses needed cash into the local coffers. One state official said the actual cost to sheriffs to house the state prisoners is only a fraction of the $24.39 daily income per prisoner. “It’s a big bonus for the sheriffs,” he said.
Nineteen parishes and four municipalities have contracts with the state to house state prisoners while others are paid under interagency agreements. Regardless, the pay to the local law enforcement agencies is the same and some sheriffs also operate work release facilities and pre-release/re-entry programs.
Work release reimbursement rates differ, depending on certain factors and rates range from $12.25 to $16.39 per prisoner per day and prisoners pay part of their salaries to the sheriffs to further offset the cost of the program.
Last July, a panel of judges, attorneys, and law enforcement officials convened to study why Louisiana sends more people to prison than any other state. They might have asked state legislators and saved themselves the trouble of a protracted study.
Each legislative session, dozens of bills are introduced by Louisiana lawmakers to either create new criminal statutes or to increase penalties for existing laws. Only rarely does a bill attempt to reduce penalties for crimes. In the 2010 regular session alone, for example, 68 of 93 bills addressing criminal procedure and crime, called for jail time for new crimes or longer sentences for existing laws. Those included crimes ranging from “unlawfully wearing clothing which exposes undergarments or certain body parts” to cyberbullying, and terrorist acts.
“Legislators wonder why the budget for the Department of Corrections is so large,” said one state employee who is familiar with the department. “As long as they keep trying to criminalize everything they find personally offensive in the name of law and order for the benefit of the folks back home, the budget is going to keep growing.”
Legislators last week criticized Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tentative proposal to sell prison facilities in Winn and Allen parishes to raise revenue to help cut a projected $1.6 billion budget shortfall next year.
The state currently pays Corrections Corp. of America of Nashville and GEO Group of Boca Raton, Florida, $18 million per year each to manage the Winn and Allen facilities, respectively. Department of Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc said selling the facilities could net the state about $64 million.
Some members of the Senate Finance Committee said they feared that new prison owners would include the mortgage costs in what they would charge the state to feed, clothe, and tend to the prisoners. Sen. John Alario (R-Westwego) said new owners would increase the operating costs charged the state in order to absorb the cost of purchasing the prisons, thereby resulting in the state’s paying for the prisons twice.
Current housing contracts with local parishes and municipalities and the contract amounts include:
• LaSalle Parish ($1,246,329);
• Morehouse Parish ($1,099,905.60)
• St. Charles Parish ($2,136,564);
• St. Mary Parish ($1,789,470);
• East Feliciana Parish ($335,343.75);
• Claiborne Parish ($1,424,376);
• Town of Jonesboro (Jackson Parish) ($1,780,470);
• Town of Richwood (Ouachita Parish) ($1,424,376);
• Town of Wisner (Franklin Parish) ($1,780,470);
• Village of Epps (West Carroll Parish) ($1,281938.40);
• West Feliciana Parish ($268,275);
• Bossier Parish ($1,958,517);
• Catahoula Parish ($1,246,329);
• Concordia Parish (two contracts: $1,780,470 and $500,000);
• Iberia Parish ($478,423.75);
• Madison Parish (two contracts: $1,139,500.80 and $4,780,561.95);
• Natchitoches Parish ($1,145,735);
• Rapides Parish (three contracts: $1,246,329; $603,618.75, and $491,837.50);
• Sabine Parish ($1,068,282);
• St. Tammany Parish ($389,637.50);
• Vernon Parish ($1,068,282);
• Webster Parish ($1,228,524.30);
• West Baton Rouge Parish ($827,181.25)
Parish contracts for work release, pre-release services, and offender re-entry services and contract amounts include:
• Lafourche Parish (inmate work release: $968,527.50);
• Caddo Parish (pre-release services: $550,000);
• Madison Parish (female offender re-entry: $431,550)
• Orleans Parish (re-entry services: $366,667).