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Budget Cuts Could Make Housing State Inmates More Difficult

Wallis Watkins

Much like health care and higher education in Louisiana, the Department of Corrections is facing deep budget cuts next fiscal year, which would leave them with less money to house inmates. 

Just under half of the state's prison population — about 16,000 inmates — are held in local jails. The state pays sheriffs a little over $24-per-day for each state inmate they house. That per diem is set to drop to about $19. Department Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc warns it's a disaster waiting to happen.

"It'd create complete chaos for us because the sheriffs can't house inmates at $19 a day," he explained.

Louisiana has been housing state inmates in local facilities for more than 20 years. That arrangement kept them from having to build more prisons. LeBlanc says if the state cuts funding, sheriffs may be unable to afford to care for the inmates and turn them back over to the state. But the state doesn't have anywhere to house them "other than floors — in chapels, in visiting rooms, in gyms."

Rep. Kenny Havard’s (R-Jackson) district is home to multiple prisons and many corrections employees. He says there are plenty of places in the state's budget that can be cut, "but I don’t think this is one of them.”

Despite the fact that the Department of Corrections is facing budget cuts next fiscal year, they're currently saving the state a few million dollars. The Legislature passed bipartisan criminal justice reform last year, which reduced the number of inmates in Louisiana. And that's saving the state more than double what they expected.

“Our numbers are much larger than we thought," explained LeBlanc, "which even helps more that we can really invest and have a major impact on our criminal justice system in our communities."

As part of the criminal justice reform package, most of those savings will be reinvested to further reduce the number of offenders returning to prison.