Budget cuts would force release of 10,000 inmates, Corrections head says

BATON ROUGE — The head of the state Corrections Department said his agency would have to release 10,000 inmates starting July 1 if the Legislature does not raise more revenue by then.

Jimmy Le Blanc, the secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, said the agency could not weather the $75 million in cuts apportioned to it by the Legislature on Monday without sharply reducing the inmate population or furloughing some of its staff.

He said the department would not release violent offenders or inmates convicted of sex crimes. But sheriffs and officials in various parts of the state have already expressed concern about criminal-justice reforms in 2017 that have led to the accelerated release of thousands of nonviolent offenders since last November.

LeBlanc said the 10,000 additional inmates — nearly one third of the total state prisoners — would be released gradually over the next year and are now being housed in parish jails around the state. The budget passed by the Legislature cut about 25 percent of the money that the department uses to pay sheriffs to hold the inmates.

Under state law, the department must maintain the per-diem payment for each inmate at $24.39 a day. So sheriffs are likely to return many of the 18,000 state inmates now in parish jails to state prisons that are too crowded to hold them.

“What that means for us is total chaos,” LeBlanc said. “We don’t have the wherewithal to take 18,000 people into a system that is already 100 percent full.”

Under the Legislature’s budget bill, Correction officials said, the pool of money for housing inmates in parish jails would be reduced by $45.5 million, to $133.4 million from $175 million.

The department’s operating budget would be cut by $29.4 million to $540 million, even though LeBlanc said it is struggling from cuts stretching back to the Jindal administration.

“We’ve taken $200 million in cuts,” he said. “We’ve lost roughly 1,800, 1,900 positions. We’ve closed four state prisons. We’ve had 16 closed parish jails. We are down to the bone with budget cuts.”

He said the agency is having trouble hiring enough correction officers to ensure the