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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

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Local sheriffs hoping for increased funding for housing state prisoners

Local sheriffs hoping for increased funding for housing state prisoners

Local sheriffs said they’d like to see a boost to the amount of money they’re paid to house state inmates following Gov. John Bel Edward’s announcement that the state’s criminal justice reform package passed in 2017 has saved more than $12 million.

At the end of March, Louisiana saw its total prison population drop by nearly 8 percent since 2016, according to Louisiana’s Justice Reinvestment Reforms First Annual Performance Report. The state plans to funnel some of the savings from the overhaul into programs that help people stay out of prison and to support victims.

Although the sheriffs in Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes expressed differing opinions on the criminal justice overhaul, both said they’d like to see more money allocated to the amount they are paid each day to house state inmates.

Unlike other states, Louisiana holds about half of its state prisoners in local jails. Sheriffs are paid about $24 a day for a state inmate, but daily jail costs for an inmate often exceed that amount.

“Local sheriffs have been for many years subsidizing the state’s budget,” said Lafourche Parish Sheriff Craig Webre. “They’re subsidizing it by taking over half the Department of Corrections population and holding them, incarcerating them, for a price that is below what it costs the state to do that. The state of Louisiana is getting a hell of deal. They’re making out like a bandit.”

Webre said he supported the criminal justice reinvestment and testified for some of the bills in the package. Because sheriffs play an integral role in Louisiana’s prison system, he said, they can’t be excluded from the money that will be reinvested.

Part of Louisiana’s savings will be used to increase programming for state inmates housed at local jails, such as education, addiction treatment and faith-based opportunities, according to a state government report.

Although how that is implemented is still yet to be determined. Webre said at a minimum the state should bring its per day payment for state inmates to a “fair level.” After bolstering the daily payments, Webre said he’s in favor of doling out money in the form of grants or reimbursements to local jails that increase their programming that helps keep people out of the system.

However, Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter expressed doubts he would see much, if any, of the reinvestment money.

“The state should pay us a better wage to keep their prisoners,” Larpenter said. “We don’t make money on prisoners. Jails are not rich. Anybody that tells you that sheriffs are making money off of prisoners don’t know what they’re talking about. (They’re) outright lying because I’ve got the books to prove it.”

Larpenter has been critical of the overhaul and points to some of the inmates released under the state’s criminal justice system package that have since been accused of serious crimes, such as Houma resident Ty’G Stoves, who has been charged with second-degree murder after he was released early from a five-year sentence, according to Assistant District Attorney Seth Dodd.

“The state went about it the wrong way. They let too many out too fast,” Larpenter said. “They’re letting out violent people.”

Larpenter said he believes Terrebonne Parish will end up bearing the costs of prosecuting and incarcerating people who may commit violent crimes after benefiting from some of the overhaul’s reduced sentences or early release opportunities, and he advocates for stiffer prison time for some offenses, including mandatory life for anyone caught selling heroin, crystal meth or the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

But Webre expressed more optimism in the overhaul, using the parish’s drug courts, which divert some offenders from the traditional court system into one geared toward treating drug problems, as an example of one effective reinvestment strategy that has helped people stay out of jail.

“(The overhaul) is far from perfect,” Webre said. “Like every new bold initiative, you’re going to get some things right, and you’re going to have some things you’re going to have to tweak.”

-- Daily Comet Staff Writer Natalie Schwartz can be reached at 857-2205 or Follow her on twitter @nmschwartz23.