BATON ROUGE, La (FOX44) — Employees from the Avoyelles Parish Correctional Center are disappointed. That's after the House Appropriations Committee voted in favor of selling the state prison to a private company.
Dozens of prison employees and their families packed into the committee room today in hopes of persuading lawmakers to kill HB850, but they didn't have the votes. The bill passed 13 to 11 despite pleas from family members worried about what this would do to the employees at the correctional center and the community around it.
"Are you absolutely out of your minds to think that you can privatize corrections?" Damon Didier shouts at the lawmakers on the Appropriations committee.
His wife works at Avoyelles Correctional Center. He worries that if the bill makes it to Governor Bobby Jindal's desk, his family won't be able to make ends meet.
"It's all good to come up here and talk RFI's and budgets and acronyms and BS," he challenges the committee members. "You're talking about people's lives!"
His concerns are mirrored by Mistie Dubroc. Her husband also works at the prison.
"Do you know that they don't carry weapons on them?" she asks. "These 330 guys depend on each other and their experience to maintain safety for all of the public."
HB850 would allow the prison to be sold for about $35 million to a private prison company. Officials say it would save the state about $200 million over 20 years.
"It works in Louisiana. I can't speak for the other state, but I know it works here," says Secretary James LeBlanc with Louisiana Public Safety and Corrections.
Kelly Nichols is the deputy chief of operations for Governor Bobby Jindal. She says the prison employees that work at Avoyelles would have the choice to keep their jobs or have a first shot at other corrections jobs across the state.
"Realistically, there are positions available across the state," she says. "We're also looking at the private employer to maintain those employees."
However, Dubroc says the pay would be less. Winn Correctional Center is run by a private company. She says the pay for a corrections officer starting out at Winn is a little more than seven dollars.
"Based on that pay, I can assure you that most of our correctional officers will not take a job with a private company," she explains.
The biggest issue, though, is that many think their safety would be at risk. "You cannot take a man who has no interest in law enforcement and simply give him a check and expect him to control another human being to keep your employees safe or to keep the community safe," Didier says.
While the bill will move forward to the House floor, none of those employees are giving up just yet.
"We are not going to stop fighting," Ina Laborde says.
No word on when HB850 will go before the entire Louisiana House of Representatives for debate.