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Jindal: Hold off on Central Louisiana prison sales for a while

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Written by : Mike Hasten
Gannett Capital Bureau

 

BATON ROUGE — Legislation calling for the sale of three state prisons in Central Louisiana is on hold and might not be revived if state lawmakers find other ways to cover holes in health-care and education funding.

Gov. Bobby Jindal said Tuesday that he will not move forward with his plan to sell prisons in Avoyelles, Allen and Winn parishes until the Legislature has a chance to see if other revenues are available to cover reductions in health-care and education programs.

The governor’s announcement came in the wake of growing criticism of his plan.

Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Marksville, one of the strongest critics of the plan to sell, said he was happy to see that the governor is willing to accept alternatives.

“I’m glad to see he’s starting to realize this is not the best way to proceed,” Johnson said. “In recognizing that this is such a bad deal, he is starting to show some leadership, which is welcome.”

Jindal would not say that he is giving up on the idea, just that he would wait until the Revenue Estimating Conference meets and see if it recognizes increased state revenues that lawmakers could substitute for the $87 million in revenue from the prison sales. That amount of money is included in the proposed budget being debated during this legislative session.

“It’s important for legislators to understand the context before they vote on prison sales,” Jindal said. “There could be up to $87 million in cuts to health care and education” if the prisons are not sold to generate one-time revenue or additional funds are not recognized and appropriated to cover the cuts.

If legislators choose to fill the hole with new money, “that’s fine with me,” he said.

So far, no REC meeting has been scheduled, but the board typically meets in May to give legislators the latest revenue estimates on which to base the coming year’s budget.

The governor said that regardless of whether lawmakers plug the budget hole with new revenue, “I still believe in privatizing the prisons.”

He would not answer a direct question of whether he would still push for the sale if new revenue covers the cuts in health care and education.

Two of the state-owned prisons on the auction block, Winn Correctional Center in Winnfield and Allen Correctional Center in Kinder, now are run by private companies. The Winnfield prison is managed by Corrections Corporation of America, based in Lafayette and Nashville, and the Kinder facility is run by Global Expertise in Outsourcing, based in Boca Raton, Fla.

Jindal said “it makes no sense to me” that the state pays for the maintenance of the buildings and pays the company to keep state inmates. He said the state should sell the prisons outright.

In the proposal to seek companies interested in bidding, the state says it would guarantee a 96 percent occupancy rate.

When asked how it could do that, Jindal said the state would move inmates from more-expensive, state-staffed prisons to the private facilities.

Jindal said the state could save $4.9 million this year by turning the J. Levy Dabadie Correctional Center in Pineville over to a provide operator, and the savings would grow in the future. He said it costs $48.32 a day to house prisoners there, but a private company could do it for $31.50.

Johnson said he’s concerned that the administration might get legislative approval of a bill that would authorize the governor to move ahead with a sale after the Legislature adjourns.

The governor earlier tried to turn prisons in Avoyelles and Rapides parishes over to sheriffs, but that fell apart when the sheriffs said they were getting more responsibility than they bargained for in talks with the administration.

“Right now, there aren’t the votes to pass the bill selling prisons,” Johnson said.

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Written by demon53

April 29, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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