Louisiana sheriff wants to keep ‘good’ prisoners in jail as free labor

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Louisiana has a new prisoner release program and at least one sheriff is not a fan, saying those “good” inmates need to stay in jail and keep providing free labor.

Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator railed against the state’s Justice Reinvestment Package which could reduce the prison population in his state by as much as 10 percent while also saving over $260 million in ten years by releasing nonviolent offenders slowly over time.

In Caddo Parish, 35 prisoners would be released immediately and Prator thinks that is far too many. According to him, the state needs them to “wash cars.”

“In addition to the bad ones … they’re releasing some good ones that we use every day to wash cars, to change oil in the cars, to cook in the kitchen, to do all that where we save money,” he went on. “Well, they’re going to let them out ― the ones that we use in work release programs.”

Marjorie Esman, executive director for the ACLU of Louisiana, says that Prator’s comments are essentially tantamount to “slavery.”

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“The purpose of the criminal justice system is to keep the community safe and to make sure that nobody is incarcerated any longer than necessary,” Esman stated. “It’s certainly not to provide free labor for law enforcement officials ― that is essentially slavery. It is obviously not only ludicrous but a gross violation of people’s rights.”

“Louisiana is somewhat of a special case just because it has such a substantial proportion of its state prison population being held in local jails,” Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project said.

“This has been going on for a very long time, and many of the local sheriffs welcome it because it’s bringing more money into their jurisdictions. It’s one of a number of factors that have contributed to Louisiana being a national leader in its use of imprisonment, and that’s nothing to be proud of.”

Angel Harris, assistant council for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said she too was “shocked” that an elected official would make such “callous” and “disturbing” comments.

“[Prator] is talking directly about economic exploitation of human beings, which is one of the biggest issues in our criminal justice systems,” Harris stated. “It’s almost as if he forgets that he’s talking about human beings ― like he’s speaking about animals or cattle.

“It brought on images of slavery, quite frankly,” she added. “You think about the demographics of who is he actually talking about. It is overwhelmingly black and brown bodies … [who] are being housed in his jail and in those prisons.”

Spokeswoman for the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Office, Cindy Chadwick, released the following statement.

“It is a fact that state inmates serving a hard-labor sentence can be required to work as part of their court-ordered sentence in Louisiana,” the statement read in part. “Those jobs may include picking up trash on parish roadways, preparing meals for inmates at the jail, or working for non-profits and public agencies in our community. The term ‘good’ inmates was in reference to state prisoners who are eligible to work but have lesser felony charges compared to others facing release who have criminal histories including murder, domestic violence, and battery.”

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Prator does not understand what they are hoping to accomplish with this program.

“The sheriff is incorrect in his assessment of the Justice Reinvestment Package,” Edwards said. “The goal of this bipartisan package is to reduce the incarceration rate, make communities whole, and promote public safety by reducing the rates of recidivism with investments in treatment and jobs training programs.”

Edwards plans to meet with Prator next week to go over the package.