Prison sale proposal passes out of committee

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A move to privatize the Avoyelles Correctional Center has cleared a big hurdle in the Legislature.

The proposal passed the House Appropriations Committee by a 13 to 11 vote.  The same committee killed the proposal last year.

"We keep selling off our assets. Our state assets, we gonna keep selling them off soon the governor won't have a place to live," said Rep. James Armes. "He's gonna be living over in the barracks."

A proposal to sell the Avoyelles Correctional Center brought many clad in green to the House Appropriations Committee to oppose the bill.

Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc claims plans to sell the facility will save money and be good for the state.

"It works in Louisiana. I can't speak for other states I can only speak for Louisiana," said LeBlanc. "I've been in corrections long enough, I've been at headquarters long enough to know. I've been in the field long enough to know. Allen and Winn G.O. and C.L.A. are great partners."

But the proposal also sparked a debate over the prison system statewide and the private companies who want to run some jails.

"Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate per capita in the world. The majority of those individuals are people that look like me. And when C.C.A. says they are gonna keep their beds full, it concerns me," said Rep. Pat Smith.

Opponents say public safety will be jeopardized and actually cost more in the long run.

"I think we definitely have to have state paid professionals that are," said Damon Didier, who's against the bill.  "They owe their alliance to the state, to each other, to professionals.  Not to some bottom line, not to a private company."

"There are differences between private prison facilities and public prison facilities," said Rep. Robert Johnson. "State run is much better in terms of public safety."

The measure heads to the full House, probably next week.

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