BATON ROUGE, La (BRPROUD)- The House Appropriations Committee heard from the Department of Corrections about the significant increase they’re asking for in their budget, but a lot of the representatives brought up a lot of concerns that they’re hearing of in our state prisons.
The department is requesting a $33 million increase in the budget. Over $20 million will go towards pay increases for correctional officers to improve retention. Across all state prisons there is a 63% turnover rate, at the Raymond Laborde Correctional Center it is as high as 98%.
“It’s out of control. I’m just going to say it that way. I mean we are struggling at best with anywhere from a cadet to a lieutenant,” Department of Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc said.
The average salary for a Louisiana corrections sergeant is about $29,000. Surrounding states are paying thousands more which the department said could be part of the issue with retention. Due to the lower staff, the budget includes funds for additional overtime funds. LeBlanc brought up how the gaps in staff has led to more assaults from inmates on each other and on staff.
“Eight staff arrests per quarter and they are often being compromised due to payment they can get for bringing cell phones, illegal substances, and anything else you might want to think of,” LeBlanc said. “We fight that day in and day out.”
Some funds will also be switching from CARES Act funding to the state general fund. The department also highlighted the medical costs for inmates is costing the state millions a year and it continues to increase.
Some lawmakers appeared critical of asking for a budget increase when they haven’t spent all their budget dollars year over year. Representative Dustin Miller called upon justice reform being more of a priority.
“We have prisoners that are staying in prison beyond their release date,” Rep. Miller said. “To me, that’s illegal, it’s very insincere for me as a representative to sit up here and give you this much money for your budget and we’re not making it a priority to release innocent people.”
Others brought up the idea to release older inmates with high medical bills if they are no longer a threat to society.
Further debate will continue as criminal justice takes the spotlight early in the session. There are a total of 74 bills under the Criminal Justice Committee that will hopefully address some of these issues and reduce that budget for the Department of Corrections.