Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc warned lawmakers Tuesday that looming budget cuts for the state’s prisons could be “dangerous,” threatening chaos in prisons and higher crime rates outside.
LeBlanc laid out three options for implementing the latest plan of roughly 10 percent in cuts: Release prisoners early, shutter five prisons or implement across-the-board cuts.
“What we’re proposing here is dangerous, to be perfectly honest,” LeBlanc told a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.
LeBlanc said all three options would be painful and pointed to prior cuts and staff reductions at the department.
“We feel like federal court intervention will happen,” he said. “We’ll get lawsuits — just about everything chaotic and bad will happen in our system.”
The exact hit to the department’s budget remains unclear because the budget that begins July 1 remains in a state of limbo.
After several tax hikes were approved in a special session earlier this year, lawmakers still face a $750 million shortfall in the coming year. Gov. John Bel Edwards repeatedly has said he plans to call a second special session later this year to attempt to bridge the gap.
The governor’s worst-case budget laid out a possible 18 percent cut for the corrections department, but LeBlanc said he’s been told to prepare for a reduction closer to 10 percent.
Under one proposal put forward by LeBlanc, more than 2,200 inmates serving time for nonviolent and nonsexual offenses could be released six months early starting July 1, with more being released each month afterward, netting a savings of $6.4 million. Releasing inmates a year early would save $41.5 million and release 5,612 prisoners on July 1.
The Legislature would have to approve the early release schedules.
Closing five prisons — Avoyelles, Rayburn and Dixon correctional centers, as well as the privately operated Winn and Allen prisons — would save $17 million but result in nearly 1,700 layoffs and push more inmates into already crowded state facilities, LeBlanc said.
An across-the-board cut would also force layoffs at prisons, LeBlanc said. The secretary read statements from three wardens who argued that further cuts would endanger public safety and deny important services, including re-entry and educational programs, for inmates.
“When you cut everybody across the board, you cripple everybody across the board,” LeBlanc said. “Our prisons will become unmanageable.”
LeBlanc predicted that all three options would leave inmates less prepared for life outside of prison and more likely to commit crimes in the future.
For more coverage of Louisiana state government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.the advocate.com/politicsblog .