Louisiana’s parole officers could soon get a pay raise, with money from probation and parole recipients, under a new legislative measure.
A Senate judiciary committee voted 3-1 Tuesday to increase the monthly fees that released convicts are required to pay. Those fees would jump $37, to $100 a month, under the bill.
The legislation comes as lawmakers also debate criminal justice measures that would offer more offenders parole and probation. Passing such a proposal would mean as many as 7,000 more cases for officers to oversee. Without new revenue to offset what could be an increased workload, officers will struggle, parole officer Francisco Dean said before the Senate committee.
“We can’t do it with a 40 percent turnover rate,” Dean said. “We can’t do it with vacancies. We can’t do it driving ’99 Crown Victorias with 200,000 miles on the vehicles. We need this.”
Dean added that, under the bill, officers would receive an $1,800 raise. In all, the Legislative Fiscal Office estimates the fee hikes would generate $926,500 each year for the state’s 470 parole officers, plus 40 officer positions currently vacant. Dean said that dollar amount is too low, contending the fee hike could generate up to $5 million for the office.
The hike would only apply to those on parole and probation who are employed, roughly 52 percent. Critics argue the proposal would prolong struggles for those re-entering civilian life.
“What this would do is take 25 dollars a week out of somebody’s paycheck, somebody who’s already struggling, for those who are already working,” Bruce Reilly, policy director for the New Orleans-based advocacy group Voice of the Experienced, said Tuesday before the committee.
That argument was not enough to deter supporters from the House Bill 302. Legislators advanced the proposal, albeit under an amendment from Democratic Sen. Gregory Tarver, assigning the revenue to salary increases only. The bill’s prior draft requested the fee hikes go to “recruitment and retention” of probation and parole officers.
The lone nay vote came from Sen. Karen Carter Peterson. The New Orleans Democrat blasted House and Senate lawmakers who support this bill, but opposed prior efforts to give other state employees pay raises.
“I 100 percent agree that you are being underpaid right now and that you deserve to be paid more, but I disagree with the mechanism,” Peterson said.
The legislation now heads to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration.