parole pay in criminal justice

Thomas Bickham, undersecretary of the Louisiana Department of Corrections, left, and House Majority Leader Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, testify Tuesday, May, 2, 2017, for legislation that would increase parole supervision fees on recently released inmates.

Legislation that would give probation and parole officers a raise – by increasing supervision fees paid by the released inmates – cleared a Louisiana Senate committee Tuesday morning.

The Senate Judiciary B committee voted 3-1 to increase fees from $63 to $100. An amendment added the panel would specifically dedicate the money raised to cover the costs of recruiting and retaining the officers who watch over inmates once they are released from prison.

House Bill 302 now goes to the Senate Finance Committee for vetting. It must clear the Senate and return to the House for consideration of the amendment before June 8.

Agent Francisco Dean testified that with the criminal justice package now working its way through the Legislature, caseloads for the officers could increase by 6,000 parolees. But, with starting pay at about $14 per hour, Dean said, recruiting officers, then keeping them from moving to better paying positions has proven difficult.

Just as it has since HB302 cleared the House, most of the debate has been around the refusal by Republican majority in the House to fund pay raises for state employees through regular state general fund.

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A majority of House members voted against using a $1 million from the state budget to accomplish the same goal as raising fees.

“The budget could have come from the House with a pay raise for you,” Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, of New Orleans and chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party, told the officers.

“It’s so unfair for the author and others to present it as an either/or” for pay raises for the officers or against law enforcement,” Peterson added.

Alexandria Republican Rep. Lance Harris, who is the majority leader in the House and the sponsor of HB302, also got an earful about how he and other House leaders refuss to address the state’s shaky fiscal system but instead push patches by raising fees on people who can’t afford the costs.

The additional fees will increase stress on the recently released population, which has a 50 percent unemployment rate, said Bruce Riley, policy director for Voice of the Experienced. VOTE is a New Orleans-based group that helps parolees.

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.