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Criminal justice reform impact remains unknown

by David Specht

It’s been a little more than one week since prisons across the state began releasing inmates as part of criminal justice reform in Louisiana. However, the ongoing effects of the decision are yet to be determined.

Webster Parish Police Jury Attorney Patrick Jackson voiced some concerns to jurors Tuesday at the Intergovernmental Relations Committee meeting. “There are a multitude of secondary effects that will come from this happening,” Jackson said.

The lesser effect would be the loss of manpower to handle certain tasks, both inside and outside of parish prisons. “These types of inmates, because they are typically non-violent and do not pose a risk to other parts of the inmate population, are used to help keep facilities clean, as trustees, so that is a cost that typically the parish is being offset by [them],” Jackson said.

Another concern Jackson raised was the likelihood of recidivism among the released inmates.

“A lot of these folks are going to get out of jail and have nothing to do,” he said. “It kind of sets itself up for failure when you let folks out, don’t employ them, they don’t have any money. What are they going to do? Revert back to their old ways and then they’re back in the system.”

Jackson also raised the issue of the budgetary effect on the Webster Parish Sheriff’s Office with respect to its contract with parish.

“It’s important that the [Louisiana Department of Corrections] numbers remain where the budget is healthy,” Jackson said. “Ultimately, if that becomes an unhealthy situation for the sheriff, he will want to revisit revisit parish prison contract.”

The Webster Parish Sheriff’s Office will lose around $30,000 a month in funding that currently comes from the state with the release of the inmates, Webster Parish Sheriff Gary Sexton told the Press-Herald last week.

“The state pays us $24.39 a day to house state inmates,” he said. “I haven’t got a definite figure yet, but it’s roughly around $30,000 a month. That’s a big drop, but I don’t anticipate us hurting financially from it.”

The law allowing for earlier “good time” releases is limited to inmates serving sentences for nonviolent offenses, a designation defined by law. The Department of Corrections says nearly all of the inmates would have been released within a few months of the November date.

“These are non-violent offenders and not sex offenders, ” Sexton said. “But I do understand that they have done wrong to others, whether it be theft or something of that nature and my number one concern is public safety.”

The inmate releases are among the changes in 10 laws that Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed in June. The move is expected save the state about $356 million over the next 10 years.

“I understand the state’s financial burden on keeping inmates, but my concern is the safety of the members of the community,” Sexton said.

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