Parish attorney advises council to close half of Tangipahoa Parish jail if sheriff doesn’t back down on funding request _lowres

Photo by Sarah Pagones -- Tangipahoa Sheriff Daniel Edwards

Closing half of the parish jail might be the signal Tangipahoa Parish government needs to send if the sheriff continues to demand reimbursement for expenses the parish does not legally owe, the parish’s special counsel advised Monday.

The parish government and Sheriff’s Office have been at odds for months over how certain jail expenses should be allocated, after the sheriff said he would no longer split the costs for medical and maintenance personnel, a chaplain and a dietitian.

Sheriff Daniel Edwards, through his attorney, sent the parish a series of demand letters and invoices for those expenses, beginning in December, but parish officials thus far have refused to pay. No lawsuit has been filed yet.

“Bottom line up front, the Tangipahoa Parish Government is paying more than its fair share of the expenses related to parish prisoners; is paying expenses which it has no statutory obligation to pay; and has been presented billing for expenses which are not required to be paid by law,” attorney Patrick Jackson wrote in a six-page letter to Parish President Gordon Burgess, delivered Monday.

Jackson, speaking to the Parish Council on Monday night, said parish inmates fill only some 250 of the 565 beds in the parish jail, with the rest being used for state and federal prisoners. Yet, the parish has been paying 100 percent of the jail’s maintenance costs, all of its utilities and for every consumable, from kitchen supplies and equipment to inmate shaving gear and shoes.

The parish also had to pay $21,750 to house parish prisoners in other parishes in 2014 because the jail was full, Jackson said.

During the same year, the Sheriff’s Office received nearly $5.5 million for housing state and federal inmates, Jackson said. The sheriff also received $1.1 million for state work-release inmates, $76,000 for a prisoner pay phone installed in the parish jail and $127,000 for managing the jail’s commissary.

The housing of nonparish inmates, other revenues being made off the parish jail and the outsourcing of parish inmates to other facilities are all issues the parish government needs to address, Jackson said in his letter.

The parish has not requested any of the state and federal housing fees or the pay phone or commissary commissions, out of courtesy and to help the Sheriff’s Office make money, Jackson said. Those revenue streams would not be possible if the parish chose to close half the jail.

“The parish is fully within its authority to close the half of the facility not needed for parish prisoners to cut its costs if the TPSO no longer wants to share in the collective expenses needed to operate the full facility,” Jackson wrote.

He also suggested the parish no longer pay any discretionary expenses for the jail unless the sheriff presents those items for approval in advance.

After an executive session, the Parish Council voted to direct Jackson to take action as discussed behind closed doors.

Chairman David Vial said that means Jackson will send the sheriff a letter, but Vial declined to elaborate on what position the letter would take with respect to Jackson’s suggestion of closing part of the jail.

“There were several possibilities discussed,” Vial said. “I’m sure it will all become public soon enough when the letter goes out.”

Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen, or call her at (225) 336-6981.