If you can’t have trustys on hand to change the oil in your cars, or cook meals, how is a poor sheriff’s office going to carry on?
That appears to be a big problem for Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator, who embarrassed himself and the state with inappropriate remarks about inmates. But the impact of this is not just bad publicity for the state of Louisiana, but an insight into how sheriffs operate.
The sheriff gave a briefing in Shreveport objecting to the planned release of a number of nonviolent prisoners on Nov. 1, the product of reform legislation designed to help Louisiana end its two-decade reign as America’s leading jailer. None were convicted of gun or sex crimes. Further, as Prator clumsily said, many are “good” inmates who have qualified for early release under the new state law.
“In addition to the bad ones — and I call these bad — in addition to them, they’re releasing some good ones that we use every day to wash cars, to change oil in our cars, to cook in the kitchen, to do all that, where we save money,” Prator said. “Well, they’re going to let them out.”
But keeping inmates because they can handle chores is not in the best interest of taxpayers. The “good” inmates — those who behave and work with dedication and responsibility — are the ones we should be releasing.
Louisianians ought to be able to trust our sheriffs on questions of public safety — important decisions like who should be in jail but also who should be set free. But Prator, in a moment of candor, underscored the ways in which sheriffs are compromised because they have become addicted to the money and free labor that flows from Louisiana’s culture of incarceration.
Louisiana has for years put too many people in jail for smaller offenses, folks who in most states are in work-release or other supervision. And too many are housed in parish prisons, where sheriffs profit from per-diem fees but do little to provide services like job training.
The new Louisiana law is intended to bring our system into line with those in other places, including Texas and several southern states.
Reforming this system is a good idea, and an extraordinary bipartisan coalition formed in the Legislature to pass a set of bills signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards.
An inmate sentenced to 10 years — who behaves well enough to be eligible for parole — would see an average sentence reduction of 63 days under the new rules.
Every month, about 1,000 or so prisoners serve their time and leave prison, so release of trustys is a routine part of jail operations. Louisiana cannot afford to go on for two more decades as America’s prison capital. Prator, a popular Republican in a Democratic parish, needs to show his voters that he can help our state change.