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|Work release alleviates strain, highlights recovery|
A seven-year work release program aimed at reintegrating prisoners into society is finding success, according to Ouachita Parish Sheriff Royce Toney.
Toney said the parish's work release program for inmates is a win-win for employers and the inmates taking part in the program.
"We let them know what it is to show up at work, to put in an honest day's labor, and what it is to have a job," Toney said. "It also saves the employer money because not only do they get a tax break, but they get a drug and alcohol free employer."
Currently, some 192 inmates are enrolled in the program. Of those, only five are currently unemployed, according to work release directory Richard Medaries.
The workers enrolled in the program not only enjoy the benefits of steady employment, but they are also earning good wages.
"All of them are paid above minimum wage," Medaries said.
That paycheck is what makes the program key to a return to society, according to Toney.
Toney said the paycheck marks a major difference between the "old way" and modern times.
"Today, when the inmate gets out, he's got money saved up in his account," Toney said. "He's already developed a job and good working habits."
Those work habits lead a large percentage of employers to keep the inmates on once their sentences are completed, Toney said.
Since the workers have a means to support themselves, that means fewer return prisoners.
Medaries pointed to one study several years ago that indicated a 15 percent to 20 percent drop in the number of repeat offenders.
Toney hoped that holds true in the Ouachita Parish program because the region far outpaces the 40 percent national average of return prisoners.
"Our recidivism rate in Ouachita Parish is twice the national average," Toney said. "We have got to do something to cut the cost of incarcerating inmates in our jails in Ouachita Parish."
That's precisely what the worker release program does, Medaries said.
A typical inmate housed at the jail costs tax payers about $33 per day in state Department of Corrections dollars.
The parish collects $19.39 for a work release inmate.
That's in addition to 50 percent of the inmate's wages and a $4.50 per day fee for transportation to and from work.
Toney said the income generated by the program goes back into local law enforcement, allowing the department to purchase equipment for officers.
"I take that money, the profits we make off the work release, and put it back into the law enforcement community in northeast Louisiana," Toney said. "We buy more equipment and provide better services for everybody."
Toney recently used a portion of the proceeds to purchase a number of bulletproof vests at some $1,500 each.
Medaries noted the program's value as well, but wanted to dispel one misconception about the program's costs.
"It costs the taxpayers nothing," Medaries said. "If they were in jail instead of working, the Department of Corrections would be paying more to house them."
Instead, inmates in the program are housed, fed and receive medical care while producing a profit for the department and a future for themselves.
That was good news to Toney.
"In old days, when inmate got out of jail, he didn't have the resources to start a life," Toney said.