The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a public records request with Rapides Parish Sheriff Charles F. Wagner, Jr., seeking disclosure of the study and supporting data that some Rapides Parish officials tout as supporting expansion of the Rapides Parish Jail. By building cells for more than 500 new detainees, the proposed expansion would increase the Parish's incarceration rate to 937 prisoners per 100,000 members of the population-higher than any other parish whose incarceration rate has been publicly disclosed, including Orleans Parish's rate of 893 prisoners per 100,000.
"Before Rapides Parish commits itself to a massive, expensive, and unnecessary expansion of its detention facilities, the public at least deserves access to the same information that Parish officials are using to justify their recommendations," said Marjorie Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. "If this expansion goes forward, then Rapides Parish would end up with the highest incarceration rate in Louisiana. This is not a burden to take on blindly, especially in light of the costs involved."
New Orleans recently put the brakes on a similar expansion. There, the mayor appointed a blue ribbon commission that retained a nationally-renowned criminal justice expert to help them identify an optimal size for the Orleans Parish Prison. That expert found that by implementing cost-effective, public safety-enhancing reforms that local advocates and other experts have long advocated, Orleans Parish could meet all of the city's reasonable detention needs with fewer than half of the beds the Parish currently operates.
Esman said, "As the example of New Orleans shows, putting smarter criminal justice policies in place can avoid unnecessary incarceration, all while increasing public safety and saving taxpayer dollars. The people of Rapides Parish deserve to have a full, open debate about whether expanding the jail is what best serves their needs."
A copy of the public records request is available here.