LIVINGSTON – Another legislative deadlock on the 2019 state budget could send criminals back on the streets and put a dent in revenue for the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office and others statewide.
Lawmakers June 4 passed a budget bill by House Republican Chairman Lance Harris of Alexandria which did not include per diem payments the state pays sheriff’s offices statewide for housing inmates from the state Department of Corrections, Sheriff Jason Ard said.
Lawmakers will return for a third special session June 18. They will likely decide on options for a sales tax renewal of either one-third cent or a half-cent to help ease the brunt of the $648 million budget gap the state will face once the temporary one-cent sales tax expires June 30.
Failure to agree on a revenue source to keep the program intact would force Ard to release approximately 150 DOC inmates his office houses at the Livingston Parish Detention Center.
The state pays a $29 per diem for each DOC inmate at the LPDC, Ard said.
“You give up the inmates, and it hits the budget because that funding is used to pay for deputy salaries and things of that nature,” he said. “I’m not like some sheriffs who rely on that, so while it wouldn’t put us out of business, we would feel a hit.”
State lawmakers and constituents should not look at the cost when they determine whether some inmates should be released due to budgetary restraints, Ard said.
He believes communities pay a steeper price when criminals return to the streets long before a sentence ends.
“Having a prison and keeping an inmate in jail – and when I say “inmate,” I mean “criminal” – it means they committed crimes, and that affects and has a huge impact on a quality of life,” Ard said. “Put them back on the street for budgetary reasons means you’ll likely have more crime, more theft, more burglary, more DWIs.
“They’re in prison for a reason,” he said. “So, if you take away the incentive not to be a prisoner, it’s going to have a huge impact on communities.”
Ard said he couldn’t speak for the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association, but he knows other offices statewide face the same dilemma. He fears that early release due to the budget will make work much harder for his deputies and law enforcement officers across the state.
“I’m not in the Capital making those decisions and working with the budget, but letting prisoners out is never a favor of the sheriffs, and taking money away from us as we try to house prisoners isn’t good move, either,” Ard said.
Ard said he has been in conversation with legislators in Livingston Parish and other parts of the state, and the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association has taken an active stand to push state lawmakers to agree on a revenue plan.
“I can’t speak for other areas in the state, but I can say that’s a big concern here in Livingston Parish,” he said.