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|OCC faces budget shortfall|
Overcrowding at Ouachita Correctional Center could lead to a $2 million deficit in the jail's 2009 operating budget.
The Ouachita Parish Police Jury, which pays for the day-to-day operations at OCC, is working with Sheriff Royce Toney and 4th Judicial District Attorney Jerry Jones to deal with the overcrowding and financial issues, according to police jury president Walt Caldwell.
"Right now, we're overcrowded," Caldwell said. "It's the biggest issue we're running into."
Currently, OCC is housing between 950 and 1,000 inmates. Caldwell said that's a problem because the jail is designed for no more than 900 inmates and its budget was planned to accommodate about 850 inmates.
"If we keep more than 850 people out there, we're running into problems," Caldwell said.
The parish prison's current budget crunch is not the first crisis to hit OCC. Just last year, voters narrowly approved a jail tax renewal but at a significant reduction over the previous tax rate.
Overcrowding at the parish prison factored heavily into the 2007 budget problems, too.
Toney said current overcrowding problems at OCC stem from the large number of inmates who are awaiting trial for their crimes.
"We've got to push through the pretrial detainees," Toney said. "We've got to get the pretrial detainees down."
As many as 60 percent of the inmates at OCC are awaiting trial, according to Caldwell.
The high number of detainees is due, in part, to a criminal court system spread too thinly, which is one of the reasons the state Legislature created two new judgeships in the 4th Judicial District Court, Caldwell said.
"My understanding is that those new judges will be going to the criminal division," Caldwell said.
Judges will work in conjunction with the district attorney's office to move inmates to trial faster, according to Caldwell.
That means less time in jail for many of the inmates. That also means more space will be available at OCC to house more Department of Corrections prisoners. DOC currently pays about $2.5 million per year to house inmates at OCC.
If the overcrowding and pre-trial detainee issues are not addressed, OCC will run a $600,000 deficit in the 2008 fiscal year and more than $2 million in 2009.
Police jury treasurer Brad Cammack said the current budget deficit was manageable by tapping OCC's cash reserves. He cautioned, though, that a long-term fix to the shortfall was needed.
The parish-wide jail tax produces some $6.7 million in revenues each year. Coupled with the $2.5 million in state DOC money, the jail has an operating budget of $9.2 million annually.
Cammack said current budget estimates for 2009 indicate costs of operating the jail will top $11.4 million, or about $2.2 million more than the available revenue.
"Currently, there is enough cash in the bank to sustain a $2 million deficit," Cammack said. "But we would not be able to sustain a deficit like that for more than one year."