Some In Baton Rouge Seek Privatization To Solve Jail Woes

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Some members of the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council say the parish should hire a private company to finance, build and operate a new jail without a tax increase.

         The Advocate’s Rebekah Allen reports that the proposal comes as local law enforcement leaders seek a new jail to replace one they say is too small and outmoded. Mayor-President Kip Holden and law enforcement leaders had touted a $335 million public safety tax plan. But the Metro Council blocked a referendum on the plan.

         Some Republican council members want to seek proposals from private prison firms, saying Baton Rouge pays less to house prisoners outside the parish than at its own jail. The cost for housing an inmate in East Baton Rouge Parish Prison is about $37 per day for inmate costs including food, supplies, and the salaries for prison guards and staff, compared to $25 per day for the hundreds of prisoners sent out of the parish because of lack of bed space.

         Those interested in privatization say it could be possible to hire a company to build and run a jail without a tax increase, with the city-parish paying a daily rate per prisoner.

         "We need to see what's out there," Councilman Buddy Amoroso said. "There are companies that specialize in privatizing prisons and we don't know that it's not an option until we go out with a (request for proposals)."

         In Louisiana, there are no privately-owned parish jails. There are some privately-run prisons. Each parish's sheriff has constitutional authority to provide for the security of parish inmates, which means that Sheriff Sid Gautreaux would have to agree to hand over control. A private company would likely displace the sheriff's deputies who now staff the facility.

         In an email, Gautreaux wrote that private companies lack transparency, public accountability and cut corners. He wrote that privatization means he "would not be fulfilling one of the core functions he is elected to fulfill."

         Critics say private prisons rely on higher rates of incarceration and often require governments to guarantee a certain number of prisoners to ensure profit margins.

         "There is a moral issue here," ACLU Executive Director Marjorie Esman said. "That we would be incarcerating people for profit is repugnant. We ought not to be creating a profit motive to lock people up."

         Esman disagrees that Baton Rouge needs a new prison at all. She argues the city-parish should focus on lowering its high incarceration rates.

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