AP’s $89,900 agreement with DA for Drug Intervention Program part of larger health care undertaking

District Attorney Ricky Babin

Ascension’s Parish Council is set to approve a Joint Intergovernmental Agreement and Cooperative Endeavor with the District Attorney for the Adult Drug Intervention Program for 2022 (total amount of agreement is $89,900).  It will be a renewal of an existing agreement “to fund the adult drug intervention program.”

By the terms of the agreement DA Ricky Babin is obligated to:

“…create and implement an adult drug intervention program for offenders accused of violating any of the criminal laws of Louisiana pertaining to drugs.  The District Attorney shall have exclusive control of the program, except that the District Attorney agrees that the only candidates for involvement in the program shall be adult offenders who deserve admission to the program.  The District Attorney shall have exclusive control over the funds required by the program.”

“The Parish shall provide all Counselors/Social Workers required by the program” with the DA “providing any employees that, in his discretion, are needed to satisfactorily achieve the goals of the program.”

The program, annually renewed for a few years now, reflects the relatively recent focus on treatment as opposed to incarceration.  For decades the District Attorney for the 23rd Judicial District (encompassing Ascension, Assumption and St. James parishes) has operated a pre-trial diversion program available only to first-time offenders.  The current agreement envisions much more latitude (and discretion) for the District Attorney which regularly recognizes graduates of the program.

It is all in keeping with the current parish presidential administration’s efforts toward mental health, combined with allocation of resources.

Mental Health Fund

While $89,900 is a drop in the bucket considering the $10.3 million anticipated fund balance by 2022’s end, Ascension Parish is taking on a much larger role under President Clint Cointment.  Earlier this month the Council approved a $49,900 agreement with Baker Donelson Law Firm which will be tasked with negotiating “health care provider contracts for citizen services in the Parish.”

CAO John Diez cited the parish’s futile attempts to hire health care providers, specifically nurses and mental health counselors, in justification for establishing a public/private partnership for delivery of the services.

“We don’t always have to be the agent who delivers it,” he explained.  “We just have to make (health care) accessible and affordable…looking to the private sector” to meet the need.

The vote was 8-1 on April 7 with Councilman Corey Orgeron alone in dissent.  While Orgeron did not explain his vote, his objection came seconds after verifying that Councilman Joel Robert has a minor interest in one of the likely private mental health providers because it “has the most capacity.”

“The judges believe strongly that we need a detox center,” CAO Diez justified the proposal.  “Well, there are several detox centers in Ascension Parish with plenty of capacity…If you want to solve peoples problems, you go where you have capacity.”

That argument was insufficient to sway Councilman Orgeron.