Inmates who are on work-release programs in Louisiana would have to be electronically monitored under legislation that's being proposed at the State Capitol.
Rep. Stephen Dwight, R-Lake Charles, prefiled his House Bill 50 ahead of the legislative session's April 10 start date. Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has called on legislators to make criminal justice reform a priority in the session.
"I haven't seen anything (proposed) along these lines so I went ahead and filed this in case there isn't any," Dwight said.
The Department of Public Safety and Corrections’ transitional work programs, offered at 38 facilities throughout the state, allow inmates to work in private-sector jobs as they near the end of their incarceration. Inmates convicted of certain sex crimes and violent crimes are not eligible. The option is also off limits to some habitual offenders.
But the programs — a majority of which are run by local sheriffs – see dozens of escapes each year, often when an inmate walks off the job site.
The latest West Baton Rouge Parish work-release inmate who walked off from his job this week…
Dwight said his legislation was inspired by the 2012 murder of a 21-year-old woman in Lake Charles. Brittany Grosse was working as a waitress at a local sports bar when authorities say she was stabbed and bludgeoned to death by a co-worker who was on the Calcasieu Parish transitional work program and had walked off his job site.
Shortly after his arrest, Dustin Pleasant, 26, hanged himself at Angola State Penitentiary.
Grosse's parents, David and Diana Slade, who have since moved to Colorado, have been advocates of the electronic monitoring legislation. An online petition that they have circulated has collected 12,454 signatures in favor of mandatory monitoring.
The West Baton Rouge Parish work-release inmate who walked away from his job site last week …
"People from all over the country really support this legislation," Dwight said.
An audit released in 2016 suggested that the work-release system is in need of better oversight. One of the recommendations was that inmates could be outfitted with electronic monitoring ankle bracelets while working.
The Department of Corrections neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation, but it estimated that it would cost more than $5 million to implement.
The Louisiana Sheriff's Association didn't respond to a request for comment on Dwight's bill, and he said he had not heard back from the group but he expected to face backlash because of the potential costs.
Dwight said he believes that the state could put the cost on the private companies who are hiring inmates.
"It's a good win for everybody," he said.
The 2016 audit found that between July 1, 2013 and June 30, 2015, the West Baton Rouge transitional work program had more escape incidences than any other program at 22.
Three years ago, when then-St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain turned a Slidell work-rele…
Three more inmates recently escaped in West Baton Rouge Parish over a period of three weeks. One was captured about 9½ hours after he climbed through a window at the parish's work release facility and escaped. Another was found four days after his escape at a Mardi Gras parade in Metairie. The third was captured Oklahoma City.
Col. Richie Johnson, a spokesman for the West Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office, said that he doubted Dwight's proposal would have much impact if approved.
"It's purely feel-good legislation," he said. "As soon as a guy wants to run, he'll cut (the monitor) off."
He also said that it could have a cooling effect on work release programs and lead to less usage of them. He also said he thought that it could have a negative impact on inmates who work to save up money to pay fees, fines and restitution if they also have to cover the costs of the monitoring equipment.
"It's a good program," Johnson said of the transitional work program. "How else do you transition inmates back into society?"
A 49-year-old work-release inmate who walked off his job Tuesday in St. Tammany Parish was c…