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Prison costs on the rise; Police Jury seeks options

Criminal activity across the parish is taking its toll on the Acadia Parish Police Jury’s bottom line.
Sheriff K.P. Gibson told jurors Tuesday night that the parish lock-up is already filled to (beyond) capacity and that nearly 80 Acadia prisoners are being housed at out-of-parish facilities — on the parish’s dime.
“We have a 180-bed facility and 185 prisoners right now,” Gibson said. “We have 76 prisoners in other jails — 17 in Avoyelles and 59 in East Carroll parishes. For those (76) prisoners, we have to pay DOC (state Department of Corrections) rates — $24.39 a day.”
The sheriff added that the DOC rate is expected to top $25 per day shortly.
To compare the difference in costs, Gibson said the parish is paying $55,609.20 a month to feed the 76 out-of-parish prisoners and $18,900 a month to feed those housed in Acadia.
“And that’s feeding only,” added Donna Bertrand, parish human resources director. “That’s not counting medical expenses and transportation. If one of them has a court date, we have to pay to go pick him up and bring him back.”
For food alone, the parish is currently paying $74,500 a month out of its general fund, Bertrand explained.
“And it’s not going to go away,” Gibson said. “We’re seeing a younger and younger crowd coming into jail and a lot of times, it’s just a revolving door. They get out and two or three weeks later they’re back in.
“With the drug epidemic we have right now and the crime that’s causing, I don’t see it getting a lot better anytime soon.”
The police jury had budgeted $738,700 for jail expenses for 2019 on top of the $230,000 annual bond payments and $124,000 for medical expenses (not including medicines and medical supplies).
At the current rate of expenditures, actual cost is expected to swell to $1.1 million, a deficit of $365,000. And that figure does not take into account the housing costs for the out-of-parish detainees.
“Our general fund is going to be in bad shape,” said Bertrand.
“At this rate, it’s going to cost us another three-quarters of a million dollars,” said Police Jury President David Savoy.
Asked about possible expansion of the current jail, Gibson explained that the facility was built long before he was sheriff, “but I understand that it was designed so that it could be expanded.”
However, the sheriff added that when the current jail was designed and constructed, “they only looked 10 years down the road. We need to look 25 to 30 years ahead if we’re going to do something now.”
Asked if there was a way to reduce costs by reducing inmate population, Gibson said that decision is up to the judges and the district attorney.
“I cannot just release a prisoner if he doesn’t — or can’t — make bond,” the sheriff explained. “A judge has to reduce his bond or order his release, and that’s a process that takes time.”
Gibson suggested that a meeting of representatives of “the four players” — the police jury, the sheriff, the judges and the district attorney — be organized to discuss possible ways to reduce costs at the jail.
In other action Tuesday night concerning the sheriff’s office, the jury agreed to sell two acres of property adjacent to the jail to the sheriff to be utilized as a shooting range.
The sheriff’s office will pay $35,000 for the acreage and will construct and maintain an access road.
The sale is pending a final plat and Savoy was authorized to sign on behalf of the parish.

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