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|OCC faces $1.2 million deficit|
The Ouachita Parish Police Jury approved an $85 million budget for its 2009 fiscal year and agreed to find a long-term solution to stabilize Ouachita Correctional Center's finances.
The police jury signed off on its 2009 budget at its regular meeting Monday.
Jurors have worked with Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Office officials and the 4th Judicial District Attorney's office to trim OCC's budget in light of overcrowding at the parish prison. Early in the budget-planning process for 2009, OCC was starring at posting a $2 million deficit in a budget of some $11.9 million. Official eventually reduced OCC's 2009 budget to about $10.9 million. Even with the reduction in expenditures, OCC is facing a $1.2 million deficit in the new fiscal year, which begins Jan. 1.
Police jury treasurer Brad Cammack previously said the budget deficit could be managed by using OCC's cash reserve to meet expenses. However, a long-term solution must be found because OCC cannot sustain a deficit for more than one year, he said.
Jury president Walt Caldwell agreed, saying that 2010 will be a critical year for OCC.
Cammack told the police jury OCC's budget was trimmed, which has made "the bottom line look a whole lot better."
OCC is expected to have roughly $2 million in cash reserves for 2009, which will help shore up a deficit spending plan. However, in 2010, that cash balance is expected to be reduced to roughly $600,000.
"We will be able to maintain cash flow through 2010," Cammack said.
To fix the problems at OCC, attention is being focused on reducing the number of pre-trail detainees at the jail. OCC is experiencing an overcrowding issue because about 60 percent of the inmates are awaiting trial. The state does not pay OCC to house pre-trial detainees like it does to house state prisoners, or Department of Corrections prisoners.
The police jury receives $2.5 million annually to house 275 DOC inmates at the parish prison.
"If you reduce the amount of pretrial detainees and add DOC prisoners in their place, it will absolutely help this budget," Cammack said.
Caldwell said the police jury could tweak OCC's budget for days, but until the inmate population is reduced and staffing and housing costs are reduced, a problem with OCC's finances will persist.
Almost 1,000 inmates are incarcerated at OCC. Caldwell said that number should total some 850.
If the number of inmates can be reduced, the number of sheriff's deputies needed to guard the prisoners could be reduced, too, Caldwell said.
The Legislature last year created two new judgeships in the 4th Judicial District Court. Parish officials are hopeful the two new judges will help move the pre-trial detainees through the court system more quickly. The two new judges take office Jan. 1. They are expected to assign to criminal court.
"The District Attorney feels that the allocation of the cases to the new criminal division that's been created could, within six months, show a 15 to 20 percent reduction in the (OCC) population," Caldwell said. "The question is: what if it doesn't? We've got to prepare for other contingencies if it doesn't."
Caldwell also believes parish officials will need to look at adding comprehensive technology, which could help parish agencies process paperwork involved with incarcerating people.
"There's a number of things we need to explore going into 2009, so if by July, there's not a significant reduction in warm bodies out there, we'll have to make some changes," Caldwell said. "We're looking at deficit spending now, but we're going to be looking at a negative cash balance."
"I'm not happy with the budget," Caldwell explained. "I'm not happy with deficit spending, but I think we chiseled on this a good bit, and it's come down.
"I'm optimistic that our losses won't be quite as bad. I expect another $250,000 in DOC income than what we've got budgeted at this point. Nobody wants to vote on a budget like this, but we should take this and look ahead to 2010 and how we can make the appropriate changes."
Police juror Pat Moore said another problem that contributes to overcrowding at OCC is the recidivism rate among parish prisoners. Many inmates jailed at OCC are there for their third or fourth time.
"My biggest concern is there's not a program out there to make that transition (back into society) and they're going to keep coming back," she said. "They committed crimes. I understand that, but if we want them to get back into society, we've got to get them prepared with education and give them some kind of skill so they can get jobs when they get out."
Some local church groups have formed a coalition to help inmates return to society once they are released from prison.
Caldwell said pretrial detainees, which comprise most of the jail population, cannot be helped in this manner since they have not been found guilty of a crime.
"We can't do anything with them," he said. "They are being held over for trial. They're not serving a hard labor sentence, and because of that, they are not in that position for us to educate them or whatever."
Regardless, Moore said parish officials need to look at the "bigger picture" when addressing the high recidivism rate and the high number of prisoners at the prison.
Caldwell suggested the police jury review OCC's financial situation during each finance committee meeting as it works to find a long-term solution to the overcrowding issue.