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To the Caddo Sheriff and Commission: nice try, but try again

Appropriate to my plea that they get on with it, Caddo Sheriff Steve Prator has made an offer to the Caddo Parish Commission that everybody drop legal maneuverings concerning who pays what at the Caddo Correctional Center by ridding the controversy over its central arguing point – housing of one kind of non-parish prisoners.

Essentially, the parish had tried to make Prator pay for “fixed” expenses of the operation of the jail when the law said he only had to cover security operating expenses, minus extraordinary items such as medical care and transportation of prisoners and other potential expenses that can be averted by having labor performed by sentenced prisoners. The courts negated that tactic but said Prator could not bill the parish for other expenses which the parish argues he still does. Prator then informed the parish that he could bill them for some others items he claimed he did not bother to charge the parish. The punch line, of course, is that the ultimate payer in all of this is the same, the Caddo parish taxpayer, regardless of what entity actually sends out the bill and to whom.

Basically, what Prator has suggested is a kind of “nuclear option.” Since the haggling seems to come over the disposition of expenses related to non-parish prisoners, then Prator suggested simply that the CCC not accept any state prisoners. Of course, at an average of 240 such prisoners per 365 days a year at $22.39 reimbursement each by the state, Prator wants to turn down $1,961,364 a year in revenues (Prator estimates the revenue reduction to be $1.8 million annually although because of lag time it would be a year before this fully would be realized).

Prator says the parish would have to kick in $600,000 under this regime; apparently a $306,600 equivalent of the $3.50 a day the parish must pay per prisoner housed (which would be waived by Prator) plus the value of forgone labor since Prator would lose many prisoners capable of doing jobs such as cooking and laundry (all state prisoners can be used for this since they are convicted; most parish prisoner are not sentenced but waiting for trial and thus cannot be used as forced labor). Prator eats $1.2 million himself but believes speeding up work release, the use of such prisoners nearing completion of sentence bringing revenues to the sheriff’s office, can offset a good chunk of this.

What would the $600,000 get the parish besides a stop to legal wrestling? Even though a decade ago the CCC was pledged to create plenty of capacity to get criminals and alleged criminals off the streets, Prator argues he doesn’t have the space now to do so, filling up 25 percent of the CCC with non-parish prisoners (most of whom are state prisoners; presumably, a handful of other parish and other state prisoners still would be taken in). So, with more arrestees for misdemeanor offenses jailed, maybe more public safety could be bought.

(Prator also argues that juvenile offenders could be sent to the CCC. Currently in their own separate facility, budgetary choices limit the Juvenile Court’s options in sentencing juveniles to detention. However, this is a more complicated matter.)

But doesn’t this seem a bit drastic? First, if capacity seems to be a problem, then why doesn’t Prator initiate work release early anyway, not only gaining revenues by also creating space? It’s not contingent on him getting rid of state prisoners. And why get rid of all state prisoners? Would half create enough space; why must it be all or nothing? Because, Prator could argue, as long as even one prisoner remains so does the dispute. But does this not also apply to non-parish prisoners not state prisoners? Why aren’t they part of this proposal? If anything this group should be let go of first, because Prator has more options (through requests to the state and/or future legislation) to find reimbursement for extraordinary expenses of state prisoners from the state to make both him and Caddo happy.

So let’s try an intermediate step instead. Prator should bill only non-security expenses pro-rated to parish prisoner proportion to the parish and pay all other expenses himself, while collecting his $3.50 per day per parish prisoner and $22.39 per day per state prisoner (and whatever per diems he gets for other parish and other state prisoners) while using whatever convict labor he can to reduce expenses. The parish, for its part, would pay its rate and non-security operating expenses of parish prisoners as billed by Prator. This is what the relevant laws would seem to dictate, so maybe all government entities should try following them to the letter for awhile and, believe it or not, maybe wasteful legal spending by parish taxpayers would vanish. Or is this too simple to work?

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