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Louisiana: Reform Results in Early Releases

by David Reutter

Laws aimed at reducing Louisiana's prison population resulted in the release of about 1,400 prisoners on November 1, 2017. While the population reduction from those laws will save taxpayers $262 million, those who benefit from free prisoner labor are against the change.

Louisiana is America's prison capital, for it imprisons more of its citizens per capita than any other state. In 2015, it imprisoned 776 people per 100,000 residents. The national average is 458, Bureau of Justice Statistics data states.

To change that, Louisiana legislature during its 2017 session passed the Justice Reinvestment Act. It comprised 10 bills and hopes to reduce the state's prison population by 10-12 percent. In addition to creating alternatives to prison, it reduced the amount of time to be served by non-violent and non-sex offense prisoners from 40 to 35 percent of the sentence.

The change made about 1,400 prisoners eligible for release on November 1, 2017, and is expected to increase by 30 the average number of prisoner released each month. According to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (LDOC), it releases around 1,500 prisoners monthly, so it is releasing the same number of people in one month as it normally would in two months.

That did not sit well with Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator. "the [prisoners] that you can work, the one that can pick up trash, the work release programs – but guess what? Those are the ones they're releasing," he said. "In addition to the bad ones… they're releasing some good ones that we use every day to wash cars, to change oil in our cars, to cook in the kitchen, to do all that where we save money. Well, they're going to let them out!"

Prator gave the press a list of 33 prisoners he had to release on November 1. Some of them formerly had 2025 release date for crimes that ranged from intent to distribute marijuana and aggravated flight to DWI and illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

"It's not like it's some opening of the gates and everybody's releasing here," said DOC Secretary James Le Blanc. "We can put people that need to be in those beds. More violent offender and sex offenders and people that we need to be dealing with and providing the adequate resources and programs to while they're in prison."

In addition to non-violent offenders, the new laws allow some, mostly juveniles, convicted of murder to become eligible for parole. About 60 to 100 prisoners are eligible for medical furlough. It is hoped that more people will be diverted to mental health programs, drug courts, and other supervision that avoids a prison sentence.


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