After WBRZ tell-all, state making changes to inmate work release program
BATON ROUGE – A week after a WBRZ report where an escaped work release inmate spoke about how easy it was to break free from the state's program, the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections announced it's working to improve oversight and supervision of offenders.
In a series of exclusive reports by the WBRZ Investigative Unit last week, the escaped inmate and a business owner who hires work release inmates discussed the need for stricter enforcement of people assigned to the program.
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"It's so wide open," the inmate – identified by a fake name in the report as “Skip” – said. "People have phones in prison. They can get any drug they want. Guards are bringing it in."
“They need more oversight,” “Skip” said in an interview conducted after he had walked away from his work release job recently.
The interview with “Skip” first aired August 29.
On Tuesday, the state announced its plans for keeping “Skip” and others straight.
“The Department is always looking for ways to improve public safety and oversight of our programs,” said Secretary James Le Blanc, Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections.
The state said it was considering GPS tracking of inmates – an idea highlighted in the WBRZ report. The department said it is also working with McNeese State University’s Criminal Justice Department to study additional options to improve public safety and the program along with studying other states’ operations.
The state is also considering adding safeguards that would mandate more timely workplace site visits by work release operators – an issue the business owner WBRZ interviewed was concerned about.
The business owner, who was also not identified in any version of TV or internet reports, said work release inmates are not picked up at scheduled times and the state never conducts site visits. He said on one occasion, his business closed at the end of the day and when no one from the state arrived to collect inmates, they were left, sitting for two hours waiting to be brought back to the jail.
There are about 3,000 people a day on work release in Louisiana.
The state announced its new focus on work release in a news release that featured prepared statements from work release inmates. Previously, state officials had only provided WBRZ with comments via email and refused television interviews.
State officials were furious over the original report by WBRZ's watchdog journalism team. The stories also featured details of high-profile escapes, including one where a work release inmate walked away from his job and murdered his girlfriend. It's presumed the man then jumped to his death from the I-10 Mississippi River bridge.
His mother, Joyce LeBlanc spoke to WBRZ Tuesday and said the woman would still be alive if DOC had done their jobs. She showed WBRZ pictures that indicated he had a cell phone, facebook page, and unlimited access to the woman he's accused of killing.
"He just was free," Clark said. "I don't know why they say he escaped. He was already free. He had more freedom than I did I guess.. no supervision at all."
Tuesday, Le Blanc said the state is working to keep the program on the up-and-up.
“In the past several years, we have successfully established new regulations which make a difference in public safety and offenders’ lives. We want to continue to build on our improvements.”
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