The state corrections department on Sept. 1 will take over management of the Allen Correctional Center in Kinder, which has been privately operated since it opened in 1990. The decision will leave Louisiana with just one privately run state prison.
The state will also shrink the prison's population by more than a third, reducing the inmate count from as many as 1,500 to 900 or so, said Ken Pastorick, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Corrections. The extra prisoners will be sent to other state prisons or local jails, he said.
The announcement Wednesday came about two months after the prison's longtime operator, the GEO Group, said it was terminating its contract with the state.
GEO attributed its decision to "state budget constraints," in particular a 2016 decision by Louisiana corrections officials to reduce the daily payments the company receives for housing each inmate from $31.52 to $24.49, a cut of nearly 25 percent.
That's the same rate the state pays local sheriffs to house state prisoners under an arrangement that top corrections officials, including Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc, have criticized.
Typically, state-run prisons have offered more in the way of rehabilitative programs for inmates. LeBlanc has said local prisons' programming amounts basically to "lock and feed."
In announcing its decision to walk away from Allen, GEO said the decision was prompted by the realization that the state's budget woes "will not support returning the center to a full-service correctional facility with robust rehabilitation programs."
While the state does not run its own prisons on a per-diem basis, the state typically spends substantially more, per capita, to house prisoners itself than it pays to private operators or sheriffs.
Pastorick could not immediately explain how the state's corrections budget would be affected by bringing Allen under state control. But he said officials had considered a range of options and determined that absorbing the prison was the most cost-effective and smartest option available to them.
With GEO's departure, the only remaining privately run state prison in Louisiana will be Winn Correctional Center, which is run by LaSalle Corrections, a Louisiana-based company. LaSalle took over management of Winn last year after CCA terminated its contract there.
GEO and CCA are the nation's two largest private prison companies.
Pastorick said Allen will function as a sort of satellite prison under the umbrella of the Raymond Laborde Correctional Center in Cottonport, formerly known as the Avoyelles Correctional Center. Allen will be run by a deputy or assistant warden who reports to Sandy McCain, the warden at Laborde.
The newly envisioned Allen will include a reception center to assign incoming state prisoners from five parishes — Caddo, East Baton Rouge, Jefferson, Orleans and St. Tammany — to prisons and jails across the state. It is expected to employ around 160 people, officials said.
Allen was originally managed by Wackenhut Corrections Corp, which in 2003 changed its name to the GEO Group.
A civil rights law firm, the MacArthur Justice Center, this week sued the warden of the Allen prison for failing to respond to a public-records request for information on inmates held in solitary confinement and segregated housing.