The East Baton Rouge Parish Prison’s overcrowding and escalating costs could be reined in by the city-parish implementing alternatives to incarceration for low-level lawbreakers, a consultant said Thursday.
Stephen Goldsmith, an adviser at Chicago-based Loop Capital and the former mayor of Indianapolis, told city-parish public safety officials they should use more citations and summonses as alternatives to jail and make more use of programs like probation, house arrest and community service.
Such a large volume of inmates flood the parish prison, which holds 1,594, that the city has to send 500 to 700 of the overflow to prisons in other parishes, which costs extra money. Goldsmith said there’s a way for public safety leaders to be tough on crime but also cut crowding and costs at the jail.
“Today, the options are so limited,” Goldsmith said of the situation in Baton Rouge. “There are very few diversion programs, there are very few alternative programs.”
The eight suggestions outlined in Goldsmith’s 33-page report are:
— issue summonses and citations instead of arresting people for misdemeanors if they don’t pose threats to the community.
— add pre-trial programs and space for those programs at the prison.
— create a formal probation department for incarceration alternatives.
— create a low-level magistrate court that could be located inside of the prison to set initial bonds and determine whether misdemeanor offenders should have to stay in prison.
— ensure that diversion programs are in place to keep out of jail those people suffering from mental illness.
— cut the length of time it takes to charge offenders, and use technology to file police reports more quickly.
— organize and expedite case-load management.
— meet periodically to monitor the success of changes as they are being made.
Eighty nine percent of those in Baton Rouge’s jail are pre-trial. And while the number of prisoners in East Baton Rouge has dropped slightly, by 1.4 percent over the past five years, the average daily cost per prisoner has increased by 6.84 percent.
Goldsmith said putting fewer offenders in jail could eliminate the need to send prisoners to another parish, and give the city-parish some of the savings it would need to build a new jail. He also said the city-parish is operating with too many outdated data systems that are slowing the process from the time when people are arrested to the time they make their way through the criminal justice system.
“The absence of data systems means everything takes longer in Baton Rouge than it needs to,” Goldsmith said.
Mayor-President Kip Holden joined with public safety leaders in early 2015 to ask for multiple taxes that would have funded a new prison and a mental health facility. Metro Council members complained that the details were not fine-tuned enough, and they blocked putting the taxes on ballots and asked for more information.
Since then, the Baton Rouge Area Foundation has worked on the mental health component while the Metro Council signed off on $100,000 for Goldsmith and Loop Capital to study the current prison. Only two Metro Council members attended Thursday’s presentation: Donna Collins-Lewis and Tara Wicker.
The Baton Rouge Area Foundation released a detailed plan Monday to build a mental health tre…
Goldsmith said the Baton Rouge Police Department has done an admirable job recently of increasing its use of summonses instead of arrests, but more can be done.
The report also says no offenders should be held in jail simply because they cannot afford their bond. Jailing the poor for not being able to pay is a lose-lose proposition, the report says, because it takes up space in the prison and prevents defendants from going to work, taking care of their families and getting treatment for mental illness or substance abuse.
“The only defendants who should be held prior to trial should be those who pose a danger to the community or a flight risk,” the report reads.
District Attorney Hillar Moore said he agrees with Goldsmith’s suggestions and that they seem doable, particularly if the city-parish can find money for programs like electronic monitoring. In the case of creating a magistrate court, Moore said the state’s Supreme Court would most likely have to appoint someone to oversee it.
“We can continue our public safety efforts and reduce the prison population by doing these things,” Moore said. “For 40 years, we’ve done the same things over and over again.”