Prison overcrowding and budget cuts have put volunteer-based offender rehabilitation programs in high demand, correctional authorities told a group of legal professionals Thursday.
Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola Warden Burl Cain said he won’t be able to do anything but “lock and feed” his prisoners if the state slashes a projected $9 million from his budget.
“I would have to cut everything,” he said.
“They better find some money somewhere.”
Cain made his statements at a Baton Rouge Bar Association luncheon at De La Ronde Hall downtown.
The luncheon was part of a series of talks the association has hosted on community justice this year.
Amanda Stout, president of the Young Lawyers Section of the association, said members of the section organized the talk because they wanted to learn more about the state’s correctional system and what it does to prevent offenders from re-entering it.
“It’s important to stop the cycle of violence,” she said.
Whalen H. Gibbs Jr., assistant secretary of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, agreed and said 95 percent of the 62,000 people housed in Louisiana prisons will eventually be released.
If the state’s correctional system can’t provide offenders with something that will help them improve their lives, Gibbs said, “these people are going to come back meaner and there will be more victimization.”
Mary Baldwin Kennedy, assistant warden at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, said a number of programs focusing on topics such as anger management, parenting and overcoming substance abuse are offered at the prison along with education and job-training courses.
“We want people to leave here a better person,” she said.
More than 450 volunteers help prison employees carry out this goal, she said.
The work of the volunteers has been especially appreciated during the past four years, which have been marked by budget cuts.
Since 2008, Gibbs said, more than $70 million has been cut from the state’s correctional budget and almost 950 people have lost their jobs.
East Baton Rouge Parish Prison Warden Dennis Grimes said state budget cuts haven’t yet affected his ability to carry out inmate rehabilitation programs.
But, he said, overcrowding inhibits his ability to reach some inmates who come through the prison.
“We are at capacity with 1,600 inmates,” he said. “Another 400 are being housed elsewhere.”
Those 400 might not be exposed to the same programs, he said.
And lack of space at Parish Prison “limits the things we are able to do.”
Help from outside agencies enables Grimes to maintain the 14 programs he runs, he said, adding that they “enable us to do things we can’t.”