Orleans Parish sheriff searches for missing inmate

The Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office is searching for an inmate who walked away from a job assignment in a transitional work program, a month shy of his release from the local jail.

This is the second time in recent weeks an inmate participating in a work release program has walked off the job.

Leroy Smith, 29, reported to his post at a local business Sunday evening but was reported missing about 12:30 a.m. Monday, according to Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s office. The Sheriff’s Office did not say where Smith, a state inmate being house at Orleans Parish Prison, was working when he was last seen.

The Sheriff’s Office began a search for Smith and reported his disappearance to the state Department of Corrections, New Orleans Police Department and other local law enforcement agencies.

With the approval of state prison officials, Smith began the work release program on Jan. 22 after serving time for his arrest in November 2011 on charges that included possession of cocaine, burglary and probation violation. He was scheduled to be released June 28.

The state can refer inmates to work release programs once they have 24 months or less left to their sentences, said Lindsey Meaux, a Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman. Participants, who remain in sheriff’s custody when not on the clock, work different jobs around the city and earn money to be used upon their release.

Deputies are responsible for dropping off inmates and pick them up from their work assignments, and check in with each inmate’s employer, Meaux said.

Earlier this month, the Sheriff’s Office arrested another state inmate after he went missing from his work-release assignment.

That inmate, whom the Sheriff’s Office did not identify, was working at his job on May 9 when he took a break about 12:15 p.m. About five minutes later his coworkers noticed he had not returned from the break, at which point the business called the Sheriff’s Office.

The inmate returned at 1:15 p.m. and deputies arrested him for an unexcused absence.

Smith’s disappearance comes at a time when the sheriff’s jail has been dogged by escapes, mostly by inmates in the Temporary Housing Center, or “tents.”

At least nine inmates escaped from the tents during 2009, typically cutting their way out and then hopping a fence topped with razor wire.

Anyone with information on Smith’s whereabouts is asked to call Crime Stoppers at (504) 822-1111 or the Sheriff’s Office at (504) 827-8505.