LIVINGSTON — Livingston Parish’s new jail is full, leaving authorities once more having to pay to house prisoners out of the parish, the Sheriff’s Office has confirmed.
That’s putting yet another financial burden on the Livingston Parish Council, which has to pay the daily fees for housing Livingston’s prisoners in other parishes’ jails, said Thomas Watson, chairman of the council’s Finance Committee.
The council paid $18 million to build the Livingston Parish Detention Center, which went into operation in 2009. The council built the jail after voters agreed to rededicate 25 percent of the revenue from a 1-cent sales tax that had been previously passed to resurface roads.
The jail population problem is made more complex by questions about how quickly prisoners can and should be released on bail and how they can be moved through the court system more quickly.
It’s also complicated by the facts that Livingston is one of the fastest-growing parishes in the state and the Sheriff’s Office houses a large number of state prisoners in the detention center.
Sheriff Willie Graves said the main solution is to add another wing to the jail.
“That’s the only thing that is going to give us some relief,” Graves said in an interview.
Livingston Parish President Mike Grimmer said that’s not a realistic possibility because the parish doesn’t have the money to expand the parish jail.
“There’s no funding source,” for adding another wing, he said. Paying to send Livingston prisoners out of the parish is “whittling away at the general fund, but there’s nothing else we can do,” Grimmer said. “We’re handcuffed. We’re in jail.”
The 84,000-square-foot detention center is designed to house up to 673 prisoners.
Only 617 of those beds are for normal operations and the rest are for medical needs, disciplinary lockdown or other specific purposes, Warden Jim Brown said.
Last week, Brown said he had 620 prisoners in the jail and 65 housed out of the parish.
Of the 620 inmates assigned to the Livingston Parish Detention Center, 160 were state Department of Corrections prisoners the Sheriff’s Office gets paid to house in the jail.
“At some point we will have to take a look at the DOC prisoners,” because they are taking up space that could be used for local prisoners the council pays other jails to hold, Watson said.
The money the Sheriff’s Office receives for housing state prisoners goes toward paying for the additional deputies needed to run the new, larger jail, Brown said.
It took 40 people to operate the old jail, but is taking 75 to operate the larger detention center, he said, adding that he still needs eight to 10 more deputies to have “proper staffing levels.”
The Sheriff’s Office receives $24.39 per day for each state prisoner it holds.
The cost to the council for housing Livingston Parish prisoners in the Richland Parish jail is $21.39 each per day.
Parish Treasurer Stuart Sonnier estimates the cost to the council of confining prisoners out of the parish will total $233,386 by the end of the year.
Watson said he foresees charges of about $44,000 a month to the council continuing next year.
“It will take away from our ability to provide for some other public service,” Watson said.
He said he would like to see judges make some changes in the procedure for allowing prisoners to make bail if they aren’t dangerous.
Chief Judge Robert Morrison of 21st Judicial District Court said judges already do that when prisoners have previous records demonstrating they would show up for court dates and trials.
In cases in which people jailed on traffic offenses can’t make bail, judges are giving them speedy trials and usually releasing them with credit for time served, Morrison said.
Having more judges would help, especially when a new courthouse is built and more courtroom space is available, but more jail space eventually will have to be added, he said.
Watson also said building the new parish courthouse would help, but he added that the project won’t go under construction until next year.
“Because we have so few courtrooms, our inmates are waiting longer than they need to for trial,” Watson said.
The problem of moving people facing trial through the judicial system so that they can either be released from parish jail or sent to prison at state cost is made more difficult when prisoners are sent out of parish.
If they are in another parish, they are more likely to “fall through the cracks,” not get transported to court at the proper times and end up staying in jail longer at parish expense, Watson said.