Search This Blog


Edwards may get what he wants on inmate total

Maybe Gov. John Bel Edwards should get what he asked for.

With the 2018 Third Extraordinary Session of the Louisiana Legislature commencing, the Democrat Edwards’ administration has launched a full-court press to ensure some kind of sales tax increase reoccurs as a result of it. Immediately after the end of the second edition, administration officials began circulating reports of various supposed calamities that would come from failure to reinstitute some kind of tax hike.

One such came from the Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc. He claimed that a $75 million reduction in budgetary authority would cause him to release 10,000 prisoners, specifically nonviolent ones not sex offenders housed in local jails, over the span of several months The state pays local authorities $24.39 daily to keep the overflow of state inmates for which Louisiana doesn’t have room in its own institutions.

LeBlanc determined this from a loss he said of $45.5 million to fund that. Such a releasing would constitute over half of all such situated inmates, who presently comprise a majority of all state convicts. This would drop the total number held by over 30 percent.

But is it all that dramatic? The budget reveals a current baseline of $175.2 million reduced to $134.8 million, which comes out as a difference of only $40.4 million. That actually comprises three separate initiatives: the $24.39 per diem, transitional work program expenses, and reentry services, of which the bulk of the spending ($117.1 million) and reduction ($39.1 million) is in the payments to local jails.

Taking that figure and the per diem, dividing the latter into the former and then by 365 days a year, that comes out to just under 4,400. That should be the number of prisoners unfunded. So why does LeBlanc claim 10,000 needing release?

That 4,400 is not far below one Edwards threw out during his 2015 campaign. He caught flak for saying that he would want to see 5,500 fewer state prisoners. This would accomplish that goal, although he did point out then he meant that the intake should fall by that number, not come through mass releases.

Even so, another alternative could cut that figure a bit. Last year, the state closed operations at one of its two privately-run prisons, Allen, both of which cost the least to run per prisoner. Reopening that while shuttering one of the higher-cost (such as comparably-sized Raymond Laborde) at the old rate (prior to previous budgets cuts that downgraded it to jail status) would save another $4.6 million, or reducing further cutting of slots to under 3,900. It should take a minimal amount of time to make that transition, as the previous operator who didn’t renew the contract seemed willing to continue at the $31.51 daily rate.

Consider as well that Republican leaders of the Legislature offered a sales tax increase that would offset much of this, by reinstituting a third of the sales tax cent expiring at the end of the month. Edwards would prefer a half cent, which he asserts would fund fully items such as local housing of state adult offenders.

At a third of a cent, the supposed deficit converts into just over 1,500 beds daily. Swap a private for public prison, and it’s cut to 1,000. Surely this figure the department could absorb through using a combination of parole and probation, taking advantage of the Edwards-backed criminal justice reinvention initiative that should release some inmates earlier and divert others from incarceration, and implementing departmental efficiencies. In fact, at this level, the department as a whole would gain $24 million over last year, as without it the budget calls for only $15 million fewer in net total funds.

Edwards must feel some substantial likelihood that the Legislature in this session might not pass any tax increase or else these stories would not have emerged shortly after the previous session. But having that happen would fulfill his goal of lowering the incarceration rate if he has LeBlanc follow through. Whether he would think twice about it over how that might impact his reelection chances is another matter.

No comments: