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June 26, 2019

Louisiana is at the bottom of almost every category that the United States tracks from education to obesity.  That is with the exception of one metric in which Louisiana is number one—the state with the nation’s highest incarceration rate.  Louisiana held that position for years until 2018 when Oklahoma took that honor for the highest number of prisoners per 100,000 of population. Passing the baton to Oklahoma was the result of Governor John Bel Edwards’ Louisiana Criminal Justice Overhaul.  This bipartisan criminal justice reform was designed to cut Louisiana’s nation-leading incarceration rate. While the theory was noble in intent, the end result proved a disaster to local sheriff’s offices that depended on prison revenue to support parish budgets. 
Now You Know:   An article written by Grace Toohey in The Advocate June 28, 2018, provides details on Gov. John Bel Edwards’ delivering the first performance report after the justice overhaul.  “Department of Corrections (DOC) Secretary James LeBlanc reported last week about $14 million in total savings since the reforms went into effect.”  “As mandated by the legislation, the savings will be divided three ways: 30 percent awarded in grants for community reentry services and prison alternatives; 20 percent to support victims' services; and 50 percent will remain within the Department of Corrections to offer programming for inmates.”
Now You Know:  DOC Secretary LeBlanc further said that “as of Thursday, the state prison population has dipped below 33,000 — the lowest number in 20 years and about 3,000 less than before the implementation of the reforms, he said. He also said that since November, the number of offenders under community supervision, meaning probation or parole, has dropped about 6,000, now just above 66,000. He said the probation and parole drop is a result of improved incentives for good behavior and allows better monitoring by officers as caseloads shrink.” 
Now You Know:  Fast forward to May 9, 2019 and an article by Bryn Stole in The Advocate titled “As fewer inmates fill Louisiana jails, wardens turn to immigration officials to fill bunks, budgets”. As the number of inmates has declined under John Bel Edward’s criminal justice overhaul, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has signed contracts to fill local jail bunks. These arrangements will provide an influx of federal dollars to these facilities with one such being LaSalle Corrections, a private prison operator headquartered in Ruston, La.  LaSalle Corrections operates three jails one of which is Catahoula Corrections.
Now You Know: The Advocate also reported that, “Billy McConnell, LaSalle’s managing director, said cuts to the state’s prison rolls ‘put an extra burden’ on lockups the company operates in partnership with sheriffs, who were already contending with stagnant payment rates. ‘I think probably every sheriff in the state that’s in that market would tell you it’s very difficult to pay your bills in the current environment’ McConnell said.”
Now You Know:  Stole further writes “Swapping state inmates for immigrants facing deportation or seeking asylum is a potentially lucrative trade for those that operate local Louisiana lockups. ICE is paying Louisiana jails about $65 a day on average for housing detainees.” “The state Department of Corrections pays “a whopping $24.39,” as Bossier Parish Sheriff Julien Whittington” reported to a local paper last June. 
Stole wrote, “Sheriffs are now lobbying Louisiana lawmakers for a $4 per day raise for holding state inmates. The proposed boost would cost the state an estimated $25.8 million a year, but would still leave its rate for housing prisoners at less than half that paid by ICE.” 
Next we’ll examine how saving $14 million the first year the prison overhaul became effective ended up costing the state $25.8 million.