Officials: Educating, treating prisoners reduces repeat rate

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 10, 2003

Louisiana and Mississippi hold the top two spots in nation for the highest lockup rate of inmates, and money plays a key factor in reducing those rates.

Jails are a big business, but &045; depending on the size &045; only some are eligible to receive funding to maintain the facilities and implement inmate programs to decrease the repeat offender rate.

For example, Concordia Parish Correctional Facility, with 1,000 beds, is funded by the number of inmates it retains.

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One of the programs created by Louisiana law, the risk review program, was implemented to cut prison costs and reduce overcrowding.

Before the risk review program was conceived, Concordia Parish Sheriff Randy Maxwell was already implementing programs to provide inmates with education and work skills to help keep inmates from returning to crime after being released.

&uot;The people need those skills so they can get out there and work instead of going back to a life of crime,&uot; Concordia Parish Correctional Facility Warden Russell Butler said.

One of the programs Maxwell has put into action is a drug and alcohol tretament program.

Keith Baker, director of the alcohol and drug program, said risk review does not work well &045; but that the other programs do work.

Of the 65 percent of Concordia inmates who have completed the drug and alcohol program, only 17 percent return to prison, Baker said.

&uot;We have programs that risk review is trying to utilize and copy,&uot; Butler said.

Butler said Maxwell’s philosophy &uot;is it doesn’t help anything to just let inmates sit in jail.&uot;

&uot;When the sheriff hears of something to help inmates, he goes after it,&uot; Butler said.

On the other hand, the Adams Country Jail, a smaller facility, is not eligible for funding, Ferrell said.

The Adams County Jail is currently backlogged with state prisoners because there is no room in state prisons, Ferrell said.

Budget problems and the &uot;85 percent law&uot; &045; which says inmates must serve 85 percent of their sentence before being considered for early release &045; are two reasons for overcrowded jails, according to Ferrell.

County jails are used as pretrial facilities for prisoners until they are transported to a state facility after sentencing.

Since the state jails lack beds, the county jails may have to keep the backlogged inmates for one or two years.

During a prisoner’s stay in a county jail, such as the one in Adams County, no inmate programs are available because smaller jails do not receive funding.

Since the prisoners do not have access to those programs, the reentry rate is high.

Ferrell said the process is like a

&uot;Catch-22&uot; because inmates will get released and then get arrested again, thus backlogging county jails.

Louisiana’s risk review program, initiated in October 2001, gave eligible inmates the opportunity for an early release, which is supposed to cut prison costs.

Louisiana has not released the number of inmates, about 400 annually, originally promised to the House and Senate committees.

Out of 15,000 Louisiana prisoners who have applied for the risk program, only 16 have been released since the program started.

Baker said although a few hundred inmates might apply for early release, only a handful will be eligible due to the risk review panel’s criteria.

Each state creates its own risk review panel. Three risk review panels were created by the early release law&045;one each in south, central and north Louisiana&045; and those panel decide the early release requests of inmates.

The panels recommend early release for eligible inmates serving time for minor offenses and also review the inmates’ records.

Inmates who get the panel’s approval then go on to appear before the pardon and parole boards for a final decision on an early release.

Since 1980, the country’s prison population has quadrupled to 2.1 million, with the South accounting for 45 percent of that increase, according to a report.

Louisiana alone has 800 out of every 100,000 residents incarcerated in some form &045; a higher proportion than any other state, the Associated Press reported recently.

One of the reasons some argue the region’s numbers are so high is that Southern states have not invested the money in social programs to keep people out of jail.

&uot;The South historically has had either less money available or less political interest in making those investments,&uot; said Marc Mauer, assistant director of The Sentencing Project.

&uot;And so, by default, prison is an option that becomes more widely used because of that.&uot;