Friday, March 28, 2008
To the Parish Council and Citizens of Lafayette Parish:
In recent weeks, there has been much discussion about funding for our Parish jail and the operations of the Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office. I have been working with Lafayette Consolidated Government (LCG) and our other criminal justice agencies in an effort to resolve these issues. I would like to take this opportunity to present some of our facts and figures to the council and the citizens of Lafayette Parish and to also offer some possible solutions to these issues.
I want to first address our “surplus" or fund balance. As Sheriff, I must maintain a sufficient fund balance (operating cash) to sustain operations throughout the year. Approximately half of all revenue sources available to the Sheriff's Office comes from the collection of the December/January property taxes for the Parish. As recently as two years ago, our agency was forced to borrow money to continue operations as we awaited receipt of December/January tax money. On June 30th, 2007 when our fiscal mid-year surplus was computed at 13 million, there were six-months of operations (July – December) waiting to be deducted from that figure, leaving the Sheriff's Office with a year-end balance of 4 million. A similar analogy would be to look at the balance of your checkbook in the middle of the month and think it is “surplus" rather than your living expenses for the remainder of the month.
From another perspective, the 39% mid-year ratio fund balance vs annual expenses for the Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office is quite reasonable when compared to other sheriffs' offices
comparable in size to ours: Caddo 61%, Calcasieu 57%, St. Tammany 47%, and Ouachita 33%. Additionally, in comparing our ratio to that held by other Lafayette Parish entities such as LCG, District Attorney, Clerk of Court and 911, the Sheriff's Office is proportionately in line.
Secondly, I would like to address the issue of funding for the jail. It is important to understand that LCG is the owner of the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center. It is responsible for the building, upkeep and maintenance of the jail. As Sheriff, one of my designated duties is “keeper of the jail." In other words, I am the manager or operator of the jail. I hire, train and manage the personnel who work in the jail. I also oversee the day-to-day operations of the jail, such as security, safety, disciplinary systems, food service, medical and prescription drug services, treatment, housekeeping and cleaning, and a host of other services. But, again, I am not the owner of the facility, nor am I responsible for the building, upkeep and maintenance. All of these financial responsibilities belong to its owner: Lafayette Consolidated Government. *
The courts have provided some guidance on the topic of funding. In Amiss v. Dumas, 1982, the La First Circuit Court of Appeals found that the parish is responsible for all costs of establishing, maintaining and operating the jail. On page 1141 of its decision, the court noted there is “no provision in any law which mandates that any of the duties required to be performed by the sheriffs are to be at their expense." In the more recent 2003 case, Steve Prator, Sheriff of Caddo Parish v. Caddo Parish, Judge Roy Brun states : “Caddo Parish is obligated to maintain totally Caddo Correctional Center and to pay or reimburse Sheriff Prator for all expenses incurred in the maintenance of that facility, regardless of the number of state prisoners temporarily detained at the facility. Such Parish obligation shall include, but not be limited to, all security improvements identified as necessary by Sheriff Prator to adequately protect the citizens of Caddo Parish and deputies."
These cases clearly indicate it is the responsibility of LCG to fund the total operation of the jail. LCG operates with pools of money from two sources: Parish and City. Our parish jail is a “consolidated" facility in that it houses inmates from both the City of Lafayette and Parish of Lafayette as there is no City of Lafayette jail. Approximately one-half of the 12,000 inmates booked annually are made by the Sheriff's Office. The other one-half come from arrests made by officers of the City of Lafayette (a small percentage of these are from arrests by other municipal law enforcement agencies). It is reasonable and logical that the City of Lafayette pay for its share in housing city inmates in the Parish jail.
The argument that LCG cannot increase its financial assistance for the jail because the “Parish" has no money ignores the fact that the jail could and should be partially supported with City funding as the jail is a consolidated facility. In fact, LCG and the Sheriff's Office have legally and successfully joined together in funding other consolidated law enforcement programs, such as Metro Narcotics and Metro Crime Scene/Forensics. I propose that this partnership can also apply to the consolidated jail. The City acknowledged its financial responsibility for City inmates in a 1992 written intergovernmental document outlining its financial obligations due at that time.
Those obligations have grown considerably over the years and a disproportionately large percentage of funding for the City inmates has continued to be absorbed by the Sheriff's Office. In 2007 the total expenditure for the correctional services (inmates, upkeep and operations) of the Lafayette Parish jail was 11 million dollars. Of that 11 million, LCG contributed 3.1 million dollars (28%) while the Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office contributed 7.9 million (71%).
It is my responsibility as Sheriff to provide comprehensive public safety services needed to protect the entire parish. In addition to providing jail services, we provide patrol officers, detectives, intelligence officers, dispatchers, warrants, civil, narcotics and crime scene officers - all working with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to keep our citizens safe. I have worked hard to ensure that this agency is efficient and professional in its mission, and that the men and women who serve here are quality employees who are appropriately compensated. However, the budget drain from the jail limits us when it comes to balancing these goals and implementing these services. In spite of the recent court rulings referenced above, I do not expect nor have I ever asked that LCG carry the total funding for the Parish jail. But I do ask that LCG contribute its fair, proportionate share.
We have searched for other means of generating funds, such as housing state inmates for whom the State pays $23 dollars per day per inmate. This generated 1.5 million dollars in 2007. We have used state-inmate labor for cutting the grass along parish roadways, including Evangeline Thruway, for litter removal in the parish, cleaning government offices, serving as cooks in our food service area and mechanics at our fleet maintenance section, to name a few services. All of these are cost-saving measures we provide for LCG and the taxpayer.
The majority of our parish inmates are “un-sentenced;" they are being held in jail as they await disposition of their cases. It costs approximately $43 per day per inmate for the housing of these inmates. Un-sentenced inmates cannot be used [unless they volunteer] for the above cost-saving services. Some have suggested that all we have to do is “get rid of the state inmates and then you won't be so overcrowded." If our jail is filled to the brim with local un-sentenced inmates, our costs to run the jail would remain the same, but we would then lose our revenue from the State.
To further address the problem, the Sheriff's Office has financed and implemented programs such as Day Reporting and Home Monitoring in an effort to manage the jail population while saving taxpayer dollars. The inmates are required to personally pay a fee which covers a portion of the costs of providing these programs. Work Release is another program established to help reduce overcrowding in the jail and it also generates considerable revenue. While these programs and fees serve to further reduce the amount of money that LCG and the Sheriff's Office have to pay for the operation of the jail, they do not generate enough to cover all of the costs. More specific details can be found in the 2007 Annual Report of LPCC, along with attached pie charts showing the finances of the jail, at www.lafayettesheriff.com.
What about solutions? Some have suggested that I propose a new tax to build a new, larger jail to solve our overcrowding problem and deteriorating jail. This proposal would have to come from its owner, LCG. Furthermore, under the Parish's existing criminal justice policies, any new, larger facility would be filled very quickly. To alleviate jail overcrowding, we must examine ways to make our entire criminal justice process more efficient, from arrest to confinement to trial and punishment. At the same time we must continue to make our existing corrections programs more effective. There must be continued, on-going efforts on both fronts.
Rather than propose a new tax, my plan is to try and live within our existing resources and to focus on building smaller, less expensive facilities that would house 100-200 minimum-security level inmates. We would begin with one such facility and add additional units as the need arises and financial means are available. I am willing to assist financially in the purchase of land and the construction of this facility. At a recent meeting between LCG and the Sheriff's Office on the building of a new metro Forensics Crime Scene facility, an informal agreement was made to have LCG provide the land, the Sheriff's Office provide inmates for a portion of the construction, and the costs would be split 50/50 between the two agencies. This type of partnership would work in the construction of the proposed smaller jail facility.
A separate issue is the on-going funds for staffing, utilities, furnishings, equipment and related costs once the facility is built. The operational costs would be less than those of the present jail since the design of the new facility would be more efficient and require less staff. The operational funding could be generated through a number of sources, such as inmate fees, booking and housing fees from local governments using the facility, work release fees and monies from state and federal grant sources.
Insofar as LCG increasing its funding of the present jail, one solution is the use of “capital dollars," as was suggested by LCG at a recent meeting. These monies would be used in lieu of using Parish general fund dollars as a way of bringing the City's contribution more in line with its fair share of the operational costs of the jail. As referenced above, the 1992 intergovernmental “Agreement Between City of Lafayette, Louisiana, providing for Housing and Maintaining Prisoners of the City of Lafayette, Louisiana in the Jail of the Parish of Lafayette." Ordinance No. 0-3968, set forth the financial responsibility of City of Lafayette to pay for City of Lafayette inmates to be housed in the Lafayette Parish jail. LCG, the surviving entity after consolidation of the City of Lafayette, must now assume responsibility for these costs. I recommend that the 1992 agreement be updated to reflect a fairer distribution of financial support for correctional services provided by the Sheriff's Office to the citizens of Lafayette Parish.
These are some of my thoughts on the issues and solutions to our problems. It will take a concerted effort on the part of the entire criminal justice system and our local government to solve these pressing needs of our Parish. We have made substantial progress in improving and upgrading our efforts in dealing with crime and you have my promise that this effort will continue. All of our law enforcement agencies are working closely on a number of fronts to improve the protection of our citizens; we now must work together, hand in hand, with LCG, in addressing these needs. If anyone wishes to further discuss these issues, take a tour of the jail, or suggest other possible solutions, your interest and input is valued.
I thank you for your time in reviewing this information and I hope that this offers a clearer picture of a very complicated situation. This letter, as well as a condensed version for publication, is being provided to local media outlets so that our citizens may stay informed. It may also be viewed on my website.
Sheriff Michael W. Neustrom
March 26, 2008
*Prior to 1984, the City of Lafayette owned and operated its own jail and the Parish of Lafayette owned and operated its own jail. In 1984, the city jail merged into the parish jail and a new parish jail was built. This is our current jail, formally called the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center. The jail became a “consolidated" facility for both the City of Lafayette and the Parish of Lafayette. All sworn-law enforcement officers in Lafayette Parish have only one place to bring persons arrested: the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center. There is a smaller, separate “annex" located adjacent to the parish jail. The annex was built in 1993 with a federal contract and is now owned, operated and financed solely by the Sheriff's Office. None of the expenses of operating this annex are charged to or paid by the parish government.
Lt. Craig Stansbury
Public Information Officer
Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office