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|OPSO looks to expand work-release program|
The Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Office is in line to receive state funding to reduce the recidivism rate at Ouachita Correctional Center.
The sheriff's office is among dozens of state law enforcement agencies that will receive funding through the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Criminal Justice grants.
The sheriff's office is expected to receive $82,165, which OPSO Chief Jay Russell says will be used to add two more T-buildings at OCC to increase the number of inmates in the sheriff's work-release program.
Parish officials have said that the recidivism rate among parish prisoners must be addressed because it is contributing to overcrowding at the parish prison. Many inmates at OCC are there for their third or fourth time.
The recidivism rate at OCC is around 80 percent, Russell said. The national average is 40 percent.
Currently, the sheriff's office has 200 inmates enrolled in its work-release program. The additional housing of the two new T-buildings would allow 50 more inmates to enter the program.
Inmates who are eligible to enter the work-release program must have three years remaining on their sentence. Sex offenders and those who commit certain offenses such as violent crimes are not eligible to take part in the program.
Work-release inmates are provided a job in the community. The sheriff's office transports them to these jobs each day. When they are not at work, they are housed at OCC, Russell said. Inmates also must participate in substance abuse programs, and they are routinely tested for drug and alcohol use during their time in the work-release program. If they test positive, they must return to prison to serve out their sentence.
Work-release inmates must reimburse the sheriff's office for transportation and other expenses involved with the program.
"What's left out of their paycheck is put into an account for them," Russell said. "So, when they get out in three years, they will have learned a trade, and they will have a good nest egg, so hopefully they won't go back to a life of crime."
"It's a pretty good deal, and the more we can help, the better of they will be, and the public will benefit, too," he said.
The state Department of Corrections pushes the work-release concept, Russell said, because the state believes inmates who learn a trade and have income when they leave prison will have a better chance of staying out of jail.
"We have to look at ways to keep them from coming back," Russell said. "We have to find a happy medium between locking them up. We can't just keep building bigger prisons … we can't continue to throw good money out there to lock them up."
About 970 inmates currently are housed at OCC. Most of them have been incarcerated at least once before, Russell said.
"We have to break that cycle," Russell explained. "We think this money will be well spent. We would rather spend the money to keep them out of jail than to incarcerate them. It's much cheaper in the long run."