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Price of Justice: Work Release

Sue Lincoln
Inmates working in Capitol cafeteria

Louisiana’s business and industry community says it’s supporting the efforts to reform the state’s criminal justice system. 

“If we can get more people into that workforce somehow, devising those ways to move them from where they aren’t being productive to where they can be productive, it too is part of the big issue in terms of the budget,” Mike Olivier with the Committee of 100 says.

What’s in it for business? Some cynics say “profits”. A 2016 Legislative Auditor’s report on work release programs states – quote – “participating businesses benefit from reduced labor costs” since they don’t have to provide health insurance or retirement benefits for inmates they employ. They also get a $2400 tax credit per inmate.

The report also shows those operating work release programs are benefitting financially. They get over $15 per day from the state for each working offender. Plus they’re allowed to take more than 60 percent of the worker’s wages for room and board.

There’s also what the programs charge inmates for snacks.

“When I hear of a honey bun costing $4, when I hear of a cold drink costing $5, it’s almost like the old country store.” Representative Terry Landry says, making reference to the Tennessee Ernie Ford song, “16 Tons”.

That report also states offenders in work release programs get their pay docked for child support, medical co-pays and prescriptions, and court-ordered restitution.

Landry says it’s no wonder nearly half of all work release program slots are unfilled, according to the audit report.

“A guy works, and he leaves after a day’s work, and he’s broke—what’s the incentive for a guy to be in a work release program?”

Judge Lori Landry of the 16th JDC in St. Martin Parish says, “From another perspective, those people that work and leave with nothing, that’s free labor.”

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the another factor contributing to Louisiana’s incarceration rate – the lack of adequate representation for those accused.