Corrections outlines plans for $14.2 million shortfall, including plans to potentially shut down two privately run prisons, reducing sheriffs' pay for housing state inmates _lowres

This April 22, 2009 photo shows a view of the front entrance of the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, La. . (AP file photo/Judi Bottoni) ORG XMIT: LAJB101

The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections may shutter two privately run prisons and reduce the rates it pays parish sheriffs for housing state inmates as it faces a $14.2 million shortfall for the budget that ends June 30.

The prisons, Winn Correctional Center and Allen Correctional Center, would be shuttered — at least temporarily — under one of the savings plans Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc outlined for the House Appropriations Committee on Friday.

Shutting the two facilities would cost about 630 jobs, LeBlanc said, but it will allow the corrections department to save an estimated $2.3 million by shuffling the roughly 3,200 inmates to parish jails.

Other savings would be made up by reducing overtime pay and slashing the rates that are paid to local jails.

Louisiana lawmakers are in a special legislative session that runs through March 9 to address $900 million shortfall in the state budget that ends June 30. The corrections department’s budget isn’t being cut, but the department was among $68 million in state expenses that were not covered in this year’s budget.

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration has said those funding shortfalls, which also includes money that the budget shorted a popular state scholarship program and social services, will not be funded.

About 1,000 of the inmates at the two prisons that face closure would need to be transferred to already crowded state-run prisons, LeBlanc said, either because those inmates suffer from mental or physical health problems or are being held in disciplinary units at the private jails.

The other option on the table involves slashing the rate the state pays the two separate private prison operators to house state inmates from the current $31.52 per day to $24.59, the same rate paid to sheriffs.

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LeBlanc said Friday morning he hadn’t yet heard from the companies, LaSalle Southwest Corrections and GEO Group, on which option they’d prefer.

That rate paid to sheriffs for housing corrections department inmates in local lockups also could be in for a $1 per inmate daily cut, Le Blanc said, a move that will hit local sheriffs in the pocketbook across the state.

LeBlanc said the cutbacks would hopefully be temporary. But with a deep $116 million cut in the proposed worst-case budget for the next fiscal year, LeBlanc said things could also get much worse.

“At this point, we don’t have the resources to do what we need to do,” LeBlanc said.

Placing more state prisoners in local jails without funding re-entry and other programs for inmates, LeBlanc said Friday following the committee hearing, is a sure-fire way to see rising recidivism rates as convicts finish sentences with little to no training.

“Basically, it’s lock and feed” inmates at many local jails, LeBlanc said. “There wasn’t re-entry. We’ve got to stop that.”

But with possible funding cuts coming for state prisons and local sheriffs, LeBlanc said conditions for inmates at overcrowded or understaffed facilities are likely to get worse before they get better.

“We can’t medicate them, we can’t house them, we can’t feed them — and those are constitutional issues,” LeBlanc said. “Class-action lawsuits are already beginning to happen.”