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Cuts To Corrections Budget Would Force Release Of Thousands Of State Inmates

Wallis Watkins

If a budget cut to the Louisiana Department of Corrections isn’t resolved by June 30, thousands of state offenders would be released from prison.

Louisiana has been housing state inmates in local facilities for more than 20 years. That arrangement kept them from having to build more prisons. The state pays sheriffs $24.39 a day for each state inmate they house. Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc says with the budget cut his department is facing, they wouldn’t be able to afford that per diem.

“We have to pay the $24.39 until we run out of money and that would be in March," says LeBlanc.

Without that per diem, LeBlanc warns sheriffs would return 18,000 prisoners back to the care of the state, "and we just have no means to accept 18,000 inmates in a state prison system that is already at 100 percent capacity," he says. "It just can’t happen."

If the Legislature fails to get more funding to the agency in the special session that starts next week, LeBlanc says he’ll be forced to release 10,000 state prisoners over the course of a year.

About 1,500 prisoners would be released from local jails each month and placed on parole starting in July. They’d have to be non-violent, non-sexual and be no more than 10 and a half months shy of their release date.

"That to me is the best public safety option for our state at this point," says LeBlanc.

Corrections is just one of several state agencies to send up a red flag about the deep budget cuts being considered by the Legislature. LeBlanc says it’s not a scare tactic, but it is the worst case scenario. "I don’t have any other options that wouldn’t jeopardize life and property," he adds.

A third special session starts Monday. Lawmakers will negotiate how to replace a portion of revenue that’s expiring in order to prevent deep budget cuts to state services.