A new facility in Walker will double the number of Livingston Parish inmates who can participate in the jail’s work-release program.
Currently, up to 75 work-release inmates can live in a dorm-style cell block at the jail. The entire program will be relocated to the new site when it is finished around June of next year. Groundbreaking for the new site, to be built next door to the parish firing range at 28225 Woodside Drive, is set for Monday.
The program began in March 2013 and is open to inmates with nonviolent convictions and fewer than three years on their sentences.
Sheriff Jason Ard listed several benefits for the new facility — keeping contraband out of the main jail, freeing up beds for more inmates and providing an opportunity to inmates who want to live at a less strict site without violent criminals.
“You want to give them something to strive for,” Ard said.
Working in a jail for several years, Ard said, inmates often approached him asking if he knew anyone who could give them a job when they got out. Since he’s started the program, he’s had one of the parish’s work-release inmates come back and thank him for the program.
Travis Murry, owner of C&M Outdoor Power Equipment, hired an inmate when the program started and has kept him on since his release. Some of his customers who worked at the jail knew he needed a new worker and asked if he would be willing to train an inmate.
Murry taught the man small engine repair and he now works as a technician for the company.
Inmates have worked as welders, machinists and carpenters, said Paul Perkins, of Louisiana Workforce LLC, which operates Livingston’s program.
“You wouldn’t believe the talents these guys have,” he said. “A lot of them keep those jobs (after their release).”
Working inmates are compensated and Perkins suggests employers pay them the same as other employees. Generally, they start out earning at least $8 or $8.50 an hour, but can earn as much as $20 an hour, he said.
Workers give 62 percent of their earnings back to the parish to cover room and board, as directed by state law. Perkins said it teaches inmates how to budget and prepares them for life on the outside. They also pay taxes and can use remaining earnings to pay for fines, fees and child support.
Participation is voluntary. Perkins said some inmates decide they don’t want to pay back 62 percent of their wages, but those who enter the program are almost always committed.
“Employers fall in love with them,” he said.
Murry said he could expect his work-release employee to show up for every shift, dropped off by deputies with lunch in hand.
“He’s there, every day, guaranteed,” Murry said.
Work-release programs also have been linked to lower rates of recidivism, Perkins pointed out. Statistics from the state Department of Corrections show a correlation.
Of the 14,426 inmates released in 2012, 16 percent were back in jail within the next year. Only 11 percent of the 3,002 work-release inmates returned to jail within that time.
Within five years, 45 percent of all inmates released in 2008 were back behind bars, compared to 41 percent of work-release inmates in the same time period, according to DOC stats.