Playing Hard Ball Over Hard Time
The House Appropriations committee combed through the Department of Corrections budget Tuesday, and testimony confirmed what many criminal justice reform advocates have long said: this state has the nation’s highest per capita incarceration rate.
Marrero Rep. Patrick Connick pitched the big question.
“The inmates, in 27 years, have increased 110 percent. And the population of Louisiana has increased 9 percent over the same period. How do you explain that?” Connick asked Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc.
Leblanc sent a line drive right back.
“That’s driven by the legislature,” the Secretary stated. “That’s driven by the laws.”
Many justice reformers cite mandatory sentencing laws as major contributors to increasing incarceration rates. And, Leblanc noted, Louisiana’s rate is not due to increased lawlessness.
“Actually, since 2007, crime has dropped in Louisiana by 22 percent,” Leblanc declared.
“Are your state facilities now at capacity?” asked Baton Rouge Rep. Franklin Foil.
“Yes, sir,” Leblanc replied, adding, “It’s more state inmates in local jails than there are in state prisons.”
More than 38,000 people are currently serving state sentences, with over 20,000 of them housed in local sheriffs’ prisons. Those sheriffs get almost $25 per day per prisoner from the state. Those same sheriffs also exercise quite a bit of clout when legislation is being considered to increase jail time for certain offenses.
Lawmakers were looking for reasons and ways to cut back the spending plan for prisons, probation and parole. Rep. Connick threw a curve ball, asking about data showing that nearly nine percent of total state workers are employed by the Department of Corrections.
“Do you find that historically we have kept people incarcerated in order to keep people employed?” Connick asked.
“Oh, no sir!” Leblanc responded.
The 2016 budget proposal calls for Corrections to spend $508-million dollars on inmates, probationers and parolees.