Ouachita Parish police jurors say housing more state Department of Corrections (DOC) inmates at the parish prison could improve the prison’s financial health in light of the number of illegal immigrants taking up bunk space at prisons across the state.
Police jurors discussed current and future year budgets for the parish prison, Ouachita Correctional Center, during a finance committee meeting last week. Ouachita Parish Sheriff Jay Russell’s office manages OCC while the Police Jury, as the parish governing authority, is the prison’s fiscal agent.
The federal government reimburses prisons across the state for housing immigrants detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. The daily rate for housing ICE detainees is more than the daily rate paid by the state for housing DOC inmates (a convicted offender).
“Last year, we started housing federal inmates,” said OCC Warden Pat Johnson. “But when all the private jails started housing illegal detainees for ICE, that kind of flushed all the DOCs out of the private jails into the public sector.
“Every jail in the state is at over capacity, with all the illegal detainees. We had to go find whatever jails we could to take five or 10 inmates, so we could get back to capacity. DOC is still looking for bed space.”
The influx of ICE detainees into private prisons has led to a new revenue source for OCC, which is a public prison. Richwood Correctional Center, which is a private prison adjacent to OCC on U.S. Hwy 165 South, began housing ICE detainees, displacing the offenders housed there after arrests made by Monroe police. Now, suspects arrested by Monroe police are housed at OCC.
“It’s worked out really well to keep them,” Johnson said. “When Richwood began housing the illegal detainees, they were (willing) to work something out.”
OCC’s revenues for 2018 amounted to some $15 million while expenditures totaled some $13.4 million, resulting in a surplus of some $1 million after all transfers, according to parish documents.
Additional revenue is a must because the parish prison is expected to tackle a handful of major projects, some totaling as much as $1.5 million in the near future. One of those projects is the installation of automatically opening and closing doors throughout OCC. The project cannot be tackled piecemeal.
For years, Russell and police jurors have sought to balance the number of DOC inmates with the number of pre-trial detainees (suspects whose cases have not yet been adjudicated).
Keeping the number of pre-trial detainees low is important because the state shoulders the cost of housing DOC inmates and reimburses the parish for that cost.
“We think the DOC revenue is sustainable, because we’re trying to get these education programs off and running,” Johnson said. “The two major sources: Monroe city and DOC, I would say those are sustainable.”
But the parish bears the financial burden of housing pre-trial detainees. When the number of pre-trial detainees outpaces the number of DOC inmates, the parish prison’s expenditures outpace revenues.
In the summer, the number of pre-trial detainees housed at OCC reached 600, though it has since dropped to about 570, according to Johnson.
“If we got it down to 500, could we fill those beds?” said Police Juror Walt Caldwell, who chairs the finance committee.
“I’ve got a better question: If we got it down to 400, could we fill those beds?” said Police Juror Shane Smiley.
“DOC is in dire need of bunk space,” Johnson replied.