Louisiana sheriff praises free labor while criticizing state prison reforms

Screengrab via ShaunKing/Twitter

His own office received $500,000 in one year from these work programs.

Caddo Parish, Louisiana, Sheriff Steve Prator is concerned that an upcoming state prisons reform package could negatively affect the area by releasing a slew of felons into his community.

However, Prator also took issue with the possibility that the reform program would shrink the “necessary evil” of labor provided by state prisoners in work release programs that the sheriff’s office financially benefits from.

Prator made his comments about these state prison “benefits” during an Oct. 5 press conference addressing the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Package, 10 bills that go into effect on Nov. 1 that will grant thousands of eligible inmates early release across the state. The reform is slated to reduce the state’s prison population by 10 percent and subsequently save state corrections $262 million over the next decade.

Prator’s press conference addressed the parameters of eligibility for prisoners’ early release, and he took issue with individual cases from the Caddo Correctional Center that Prator says haven’t been properly vetted or rehabilitated. According to the Shreveport Times, the reforms received bipartisan support across politicians and community activists, and apply solely to non-violent offenders who qualify for good time release.

However, when asked about how state resource cuts could affect rehabilitation to smaller parish jails, Prator’s concern turned to losing funds brought in by “good ones” in work release programs as opposed to assisting non-violent prisoners:

“I don’t want state prisons. They are a necessary evil to keep the doors open, that we keep a few, or keep some out there, and that’s the ones that you can work. That’s the ones that you can pick up trash, the work release programs. But guess what? Those are the ones that they’re releasing. In addition to the bad ones, and I call these bad, in addition to them they’re releasing some good ones that we use every day to wash cars, to change oil in our cars, to cook in the kitchen, to do all that to where we save money. Well, they’re gonna let them out, the ones that we use in the work release programs, they’re gonna let them out.”

According to a Times story from 2015, the Louisiana Department of Corrections requires that inmates working under voluntary work programs for non-violent offenders have at most either 62 percent or $63.50 per day (whichever is less) of their gross income siphoned to pay for their lodging, food, and transportation.

Inmates usually earn $7.75 an hour before these deductions but don’t see a majority of the funds. This recuperation financially bolstered the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Office itself, adding $500,000 to its general fund for the 2011-12 fiscal year. In response to one inmate’s critique that he wasn’t being fairly compensated, Prator defended the program at the time.

“The work release program is voluntary,” Prator said. “If he wants to sit in his cell, and he’s not pleased with his room and board coming out of there, then he can go back to the main compound and wait his time.”

Prator’s comment was picked up and published by journalist Shaun King a week later, with others across Twitter criticizing the implication that “good ones” should be kept in prison for the state’s capitalistic benefit.

The Caddo Parrish Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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