Inmate work release hit by slowing economy

The privately-run program that houses state prison inmates in Terrebonne Parish and allows them to work at off-site jobs will close July 15, Sheriff Jerry Larpenter and the

owner of the company said Friday. The problem is one now familiar in the Bayou Region, that a work slowdown related to low oil prices has dried up employment opportunities for the inmates, to a point where they cannot be profitably sustained by the company, Louisiana Workforce LLC.

“The jobs are not there for the inmates,” Larpenter said.

The firm’s owner, Paul Perkins, said the closure will not be permanent but will last until the economy picks up enough again to support it.

“We have been hanging on down there,” Perkins said. “The economy is so bad, it is all about oil and gas and we have been taking a loss. We are going to put the lock on the doors and clean it up real good and have it ready when the economy comes back.”

The Savanne Road work release site is owned by the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office, which plays no role in managing the program.

Both the Sheriff’s Office and Perkins’ firm derive revenue from the program, and Larpenter estimates its closure will drain from $600,000- 800,000 annually from his

budget, already made soft by drops in payment of sales tax, a sustaining revenue stream. The Sheriff’s Office leases the work release site to Perkins and his firm.

Larpenter’s office is also paid $10 per inmate per day by the Department of Corrections for each man in the program. Perkins rakes money off the top for the income inmates receive for working at their jobs.

Companies using work release inmates locally have included local chain restaurants as well as offshore support companies. In many cases, Perkins says, the inmates have learned skills or established relationships with employers that have allowed them to obtain work after their time is served.

Originally, the site had 250 beds but had been operating at about 120. Recently, the

inmate count has dropped to around 70.

Those currently in the program will either be returned to general population at various state prisons or accepted into the remaining five sites that Perkins operates throughout the state, at Ouachita and Livingston parishes, St. Francisville, Baton Rouge and DeQuincy.

Although the program has been praised for its positive aspects, there has been criticism and bad fortune as well. At least two inmates have walked off their local jobs over the past two years.

One suffered an injury to his leg while hiding from authorities under a house.

He ultimately underwent an amputation. Last year, a work-release inmate succumbed to a drug overdose.

Although not the only company in the work-release game, Louisiana Workforce has emerged as a leader, drawing scrutiny at times due to Perkins’ close relations with DOC Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc and former Angola warden Burl Cain. •