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Louisiana Corrections Secretary: More Private Prisons Won’t Save Money

Privatizing more prisons will not save Louisiana money now or in the long run, according to the state’s Public Safety and Corrections Secretary, Jimmy LeBlanc. LeBlanc is opposed to House Concurrent Resolution 30, proposed by state Rep. Jack McFarland, which would require the prison system to report by the end of 2017 whether turning over the management of five additional prisons to for-profit companies would result in cost savings.

Much of the assumed savings would come from paying guards and other staff lower wages, LeBlanc said, which would make it harder to recruit and retain good employees. The state already struggles to retain staff due to low wages; the starting salary for a Louisiana prison guard is $24,300 per year. A privately-operated prison would likely reduce wages even more, he noted.

News of more privatization unnerved staff at some facilities. “It doesn’t help with the morale of the prison system,” LeBlanc said in a May 17, 2017 statement. Prison guards already have the highest turnover rate among state employees.

Private companies operate two Louisiana state prisons: the Allen Correctional Center, run by GEO Group, and the Winn Correctional Center, managed by LaSalle Corrections. McFarland’s bill would add another five for-profit prisons.

In mid-2016, Louisiana downgraded its privatized prisons to “jail” status – an administrative maneuver that let state officials cut education and rehabilitation programs. The move also reduced payments to the companies running the facilities from $31.51 per prisoner per day to $24.39, and cut 100 jobs at each location.

McFarland introduced his legislation because he thought privatization would relieve the state’s budget crisis, and the estimated savings would go toward education and rehabilitative services at local jails. He is also seeking funds to restore services to the downgraded private prisons, especially at Winn, which is in his district.

Corrections Secretary LeBlanc also favors restoring the Winn and Allen facilities to “prison” status, but that would require more money and the state has already cut the prison system’s budget.

A recent 10-month study focused on how Louisiana could reduce its highest-in-the-nation incarceration rate. Privatization was not recommended. Rep. McFarland’s bill did not pass during the last legislation session, though it may be reintroduced.

Meanwhile, in June 2017 the GEO Group abruptly announced that it was pulling out of its contract to manage the Allen Correctional Center, citing “state budgetary constraints.” The move caught local officials by surprise.

“GEO is probably the third largest employer for Allen Parish and it’s going to affect our community dramatically with revenue and utilities,” said Mayor Wayland LaFargue. “People don’t realize the utilities they use. The employees ... where are they going to go? I’m guessing 200 some have been there 20-plus years, that’s devastating to a family.”

GEO’s decision to walk away from its contract to operate the Allen facility illustrates how private prison companies are quick to cut their losses when contracts are no longer profitable – something that Rep. McFarland should keep in mind with respect to his efforts to expand prison privatization. 



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