Sheriff Jay Russell.JPG

Area sheriffs say it’s about time the state Legislature considered raising the per diem paid to local authorities for housing state inmates in a parish jail or institution.

Currently, the state Department of Corrections (DOC) pays a per diem of $24.39 to house state, or DOC, offenders.

Under legislation authored by state Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, the per diem to house DOC offenders would rise from $24.39 to $29.39 over a three-year period.

“I believe it’s long overdue,” said Franklin Parish Sheriff Kevin Cobb. “Just like everybody else, our expenses have continued to go up, whether it’s medical costs or the costs of serving food or providing utilities.”

“We have been well below the national average on reimbursement for the costs to house DOC offenders,” he added.

According to Cobb, any increase would represent a “tremendous boost” for the parish, because any financial relief for housing state inmates would free up more focused investment in local law enforcement efforts.

Ouachita Parish Sheriff Jay Russell said the current rate has remained unchanged since it was last raised under the Jindal administration, referring to a per diem increase in 2008.

“Studies show the (parish’s) cost of housing inmates for DOC is around $35 per day,” Russell said.

The state House of Representatives approved Jackson’s House Bill 551 on a 99-0 vote last week. As of Tuesday, HB 551 was scheduled for consideration during a Senate Finance committee hearing.

Jackson’s legislation received its first hearing before the House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice on April 24. At that time, Jackson argued that sheriffs and parishes across the state could not conduct “business as usual without an increase.”

According to Jackson and others, the per diem increase would ultimately save money for the state. That would be the case because the state’s cost to house state inmates rose from $45 in 2008 to the current daily rate of $60.09, according to Mike Ranatza, Executive Director at the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association. That means the state general fund is spared the expenditure of roughly $30 for each state inmate, or DOC offender, that is housed at a parish prison.

“If these inmates are returned to the state, we lose that savings,” Jackson said.

The Legislative Fiscal Office estimates Jackson’s per diem increase would ultimately cost some $30 million each year.

“The local cost of housing DOC offenders is still below what it costs the state, so it’s a win-win,” Cobb said. “We are ultimately saving the state taxpayers money, even with the increase.”

Ranatza cited retirement costs, insurance and liability costs as major drivers of sheriff’s office’s costs.

“Our costs per offender exceed $34 a day, and we’re being reimbursed $24,” Ranatza said. “The parishes are subsidizing the state to hold the state’s prisoners.”

State Rep. Steve Pylant, who previously served as sheriff in Franklin Parish, said medical costs were a major driver of costs at a parish prison, suggesting some prisoners abused the medical treatment opportunities available to them.

“Everybody that goes to jail gets sick, and everyone wants to go to the doctor for one reason or another,” said Pylant, R-Winnsboro. “You can’t tell whether someone is sick or not, so you have to go that extra mile.”

Pylant also is one of the legislation’s co-sponsors.

“I think it’s important for people to know that 30 years ago the state got into the jail construction business with sheriffs, on a 60-40 basis,” Pylant said. “If we built the jails, they would provide 40 percent of the inmates. If you look at how the per diem has increased. You’re looking at basically a three dollar increase over a 30-year increase.

“The jails we built back then with the state’s approval to help the inmates have deteriorated over time. We’re having to go back and remodel. It’s an ongoing cost, just from a facility standpoint.”

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