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Trends, creative policy obviate Caddo jail expansions

When the Caddo Correctional Center opened in 1996, not only was it state of the art in terms of design, it greatly increased the capacity of the parish to hold inmates. A dozen years later, statistics show it’s bursting at the seams and the parish and Sheriff Steve Prator have to deal with this public policy issue. Understanding why this has happened reveals the best way of doing so.

Actually, when reviewing some indicators, it seems odd that there is overcrowding when one might expect the opposite. Despite the rhetoric of politicians, the largest contributor to aggregate crime has little to do with policy: it’s demographic factors. Simply, people of a certain gender – male – and of a certain age grouping – young adults – are significantly disproportionately likely to commit crime. To specify, the proportion of males 18-24 years old in a population explains much of the variance in terms of commission of crime.

As crime rates in America fell in throughout the 1980s and 1990s and politicians took credit for it, what went unmentioned was the main reason was the dramatic decrease of young adult males relative to the rest of the population. They comprised 6.65 percent in 1980, but by 1990 only 5.52 percent and in 2000 were down to 4.93 percent. The estimate nationally for 2006 ticked up to 5.07 percent but 2010 projections fall to 5.05 percent and to 4.75 percent by 2015. Louisiana mirrors the trend: 5.25 percent of its population fell in this category in 2000 but only 5.12 percent is projected by 2010. So does Caddo Parish: its proportion of the category was only 3.93 percent in 2000 and was estimated at 3.72 percent in 2006.

Given overall population and a stagnant growth trend, there’s little reason to think this proportion will increase in the coming years. Thus, pressure on jail space ought to be falling and should have been, assuming local demographics tracked national ones, since the opening of the CCC.

Crime statistics provide even more confirmation. Shreveport’s Uniform Crime Reports data show that crime, for the most part, has steadily decreased since 1999, from 18,493 incidents reported to 2006’s 14,942. Caddo’s has gone from 1,515 in 2004 to 1,156 in 2006. (These comprise likely 99 percent of all crime reported in the parish, and probably 80 percent of all crimes that involve jailing are felony in nature.)

Of course, the decrease in crime is related to burgeoning prisons by an old truism: filling up cells gets criminals off the street, and local law enforcement has stepped up enforcement in recent years. But the likely population decline in the category of greatest potential criminal behavior also has impacted this trend, and if it is predicted to continue, one has to question a study commissioned by Prator forecasting estimated CCC daily counts going from 1,500 (capacity) currently to 1,667 in 2010 and an astonishing 2,864 by 2018.

Demographics can’t support these figures and would make commitment of funds to building permanent jailing facilities an inefficient use of taxpayers’ dollars. Instead of focusing on infrastructure, solutions need to address process concerns.

First, Prator’s study also showed the parish’s average court processing times were longer than the national average, significantly longer in some cases. The components of the criminal justice system need to get together, as he has recommended, and figure out why it has been so much slower and correct this. The fewer days in jail somebody must stay (with many being indicted on felonies awaiting trial who cannot be entered into the state system until if convicted), the lower both operational costs will be and the more efficiently infrastructure will be used.

Second, Prator’s own practices of housing state inmates must be reviewed. Because of overcrowding at the state level, Louisiana farms out tens of thousands of prisoners a day to local facilities. What proportion of CCC inmates are state prisoners, and would not reducing this even all the way to none forestall a space crisis?

Of course, Prator might complain that this reduction would have a negative monetary impact on the CCC because the state pays a far higher rate to house one of its inmates than a parish legally must to have one of its convicted kept. Solving this occurs by borrowing an idea from an innovative sheriff out west.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio for years has put many of his inmates in tents, fed them with the cheapest food available, and cut back on any imaginable amenity – all ruled constitutional by the courts. If Prator feels a space crisis is in the offing, this is a proven option he also can pursue. Studies show the Spartan nature of the incarceration experience doesn’t really reduce crime, but it certainly saves on taxpayer dollars and given the demographic trends this should be the first option Prator pursues if court processing can’t be streamlined enough and/or he is unable or unwilling to reduce the number of state inmates at the CCC.

Along with other ideas that Prator has (like expanded, if possible, work release and a facility to handle those prisoners so selected), these demonstrate to the Parish Commission that there’s no need for permanent new or expanded building with costs foisted upon the parish’s citizenry.

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