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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

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Local sheriffs brace for possible budget cuts

Local sheriffs brace for possible budget cuts

Steep budget cuts proposed by Gov. John Bel Edwards would make it difficult for parish jails to continue housing state prisoners, local sheriffs said.

Sheriffs receive $24.39 from the state for each inmate per day, but the proposed $40 million in budget cuts to local sheriffs would reduce that amount to $19.39 per inmate.

“The sheriffs are housing half of their prisoners,” said Terrebonne Sheriff Jerry Larpenter. “It would cost the state $50 a day to keep a prisoner in a state prison, but they’re giving us $24 a day to keep them. We probably save them $160 million a year by keeping their prisoners. Now they want to give us $19 a day? We would be going backwards.”

Terrebonne Parish at one time housed about 220 state inmates, but that number has fallen to roughly 120 in recent years, Larpenter said.

“I’m down half from what I used to be,” Larpenter said. “That’s about a million dollars a year. All the government entities are hurting right now in Terrebonne. I got to do what I got to do to balance the budget, but there comes a point in time when enough is enough. All we do is take cuts. Nobody’s helping the sheriffs in this state. When is it going to stop?”

Although the Lafourche Parish jail doesn’t house as many state inmates as Terrebonne, Sheriff Craig Webre said the governor’s draconian budget proposal would render such an operation impossible.

“I know for a fact that $24.39 is woefully inadequate to house inmates and anything less than that would be absurd,” Webre said. “However, it’s too early in the process to panic. I do think we’re far from where we’ll end up and it’s too early to declare victory or defeat. It’s a negotiation process and a starting point. But it’s something we’ll pay close attention to.”

Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc is also hopeful state officials will reach an agreement to avoid such a massive budget cut.

“This budget is a complete step backwards from the progress made last year,” LeBlanc said. “We need help in our local-level prison operations because this is something really scary.”

If sheriffs were to start sending back their state inmates, the Department of Public Safety and Corrections could lose its accreditation from the American Correctional Association, LeBlanc said.

The accreditation helps avoid federal oversight and the higher costs that come with it, he said.

“When the federal court intervenes, then it is basically an open checkbook,” said LeBlanc.

Edwards said he didn’t support the $1 billion in cuts he proposed but was required to draft a balanced budget while he and Republican leaders negotiate over possible revenue-raising measures that could cover a projected $1 billion budget shortfall.

Larpenter said if his budget continues its downward spiral, he could be forced to consider layoffs.

“I’ve already cut back on a lot of things,” Larpenter said. “For instance, I’m not buying cars right now. When you’ve got a budget in place that you’re used to you can’t take a hit like that every year.”

According to the Department of Corrections, about 55 percent of the state’s total prison population is housed in local jails.


--Paul Braun of LSU Manship School News Service contributed to this report.

--Staff Writer Dan Copp can be reached at 857-2202 or at Follow him on Twitter@DanVCopp