Ouachita Parish voters are expected to entertain a 9.2-mill property tax proposition on the ballot later this year to help cover the costs of operating the parish prison.
The Ouachita Parish Police Jury owns Ouachita Correctional Center, the parish prison off U.S. Hwy 165 South, but Ouachita Parish Sheriff Jay Russell’s office manages the prison and staffs the facility.
The Police Jury recently announced its intention to call a special election asking voters to consider approving the millage for a five-year term.
Parish voters previously approved the 9.2-mill property tax in 2012 and again in 2016. The millage generates about $9.4 million each year.
“I think, with the cost of everything going up, whether food, uniforms, medicine, and so on, and now they are simply asking for a renewal,” said Police Jury President Shane Smiley. “That speaks volumes for the sheriff’s management of the correctional center.”
In 2011, the parish prison’s budget was in the red and the Sheriff’s Office could not hire enough personnel to manage the prison’s inmate population. Parish voters’ approval of the millage in 2012 corrected the problem, according to Glenn Springfield, the sheriff’s public information officer.
“OCC immediately began to hire the needed personnel and maintains the required number today,” Springfield said. “Deputies continue to be trained on an in-service basis and all correctional requirements are being met.”
According to the Sheriff’s Office, several work programs have been established in recent years using inmate labor to save money for taxpayers.
“Inmates are also used for community service, i.e. filling sandbags at designated sites to help flood victims in our parish during flooding,” Springfield said.
The Sheriff’s Office also has created educational and training programs for eligible inmates to prevent recidivism, or the rate at which criminal offenders return to prison.
“Without the funding generated from the 2012 millage, none of this would be possible,” Russell said. “Funds from the Transitional Work Program (Work Release) are combined with the current millage to ensure the facility continues to run safely and efficiently, while also meeting the Department of Corrections guidelines.”
In recent years, the Sheriff’s Office has further tamped down on costs by trying to house more state Department of Corrections prisoners than pre-trial inmates at OCC. Pre-trial inmates are detainees awaiting trial in the local court system. When the number of pre-trial inmates outnumber DOC prisoners, the burden on local taxpayers rises, whereas a higher number of DOC prisoners means the parish prison receives a per diem from the state to cover some housing costs.
“The sheriff has done an outstanding job of balancing that budget,” Smiley said.
“There’s not a lot of extra money, but they’re not asking voters to pay any additional money. That shows they’re good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars.”