- Associated Press - Sunday, December 21, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A new $200 million prison for East Baton Rouge Parish could drive up the parish’s operating costs because inmates are currently being housed for less in outlying parishes.

The Advocate (https://bit.ly/1wcl8zn ) reports that it’s unclear whether a new prison would save the city-parish money, even though officials have focused on the payments to other jails.

Officials say the need for space and the ballooning costs associated with sending pretrial inmates to out-of-parish detention centers is a key reason they are pushing for a new jailhouse in Mayor-President Kip Holden’s latest $350 million public safety infrastructure tax plan. With 2,500 beds, the proposed facility would have space for 900 more inmates, giving it the largest capacity of any parish jail in Louisiana.

“Sending all of our prisoners out of the parish is not a good use of taxpayer money,” William Daniel, Holden’s chief administrative officer, said earlier this month after it was revealed the mayor would be seeking tax increases.

East Baton Rouge Parish Prison has a capacity of 1,594. But there are about 2,200 inmates under the parish’s control at any given time. The number of inmates is constantly changing, but last week there were 643 inmates spread across Catahoula, Concordia, East Carroll, Evangeline and Pointe Coupee parish jails. The cost for sending inmates elsewhere has averaged about $6 million a year for the past three years.

Still, despite growing costs, the city-parish saves about $10 per day for every inmate it sends away.

The various jails that East Baton Rouge Parish contracts with charge from $24.39 to $24.70 per inmate per day. The cost of transporting inmates adds another $1.29 per inmate each day. It costs about $36.87 per day for every inmate housed at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison.

Supporters say there are other reasons for a new jail.

“It’s difficult for us to communicate with our clients if they aren’t as close,” said public defender Mike Mitchell, while adding that the Sheriff’s Office is generally cooperative about bringing defendants in for necessary interviews with counsel.

Jon Wool, who directs the New Orleans office of the Vera Institute of Justice, said a better policy for Baton Rouge would be to analyze ways to reduce inmate population.

“Adding more beds almost never solves an overcrowding problem,” Wool said. “I would caution against the reflexive idea that we need to grow the jail to the size of the population.”

Wool said at 2,200 detainees, East Baton Rouge Parish is incarcerating double the national average for an urban county, based on federal Bureau of Justice Statistics data.

For its part, the city-parish is attempting to reduce inmate population in other ways, including adding a facility for mentally ill offenders booked on nonviolent crimes.


Information from: The Advocate, https://theadvocate.com

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