On June 15, 2017, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards signed into law the most comprehensive criminal justice reform in the state’s history. The bipartisan package of 10 bills primarily focuses on people serving sentences for on non-violent, non-sex offenses and is designed to reduce the amount of our state’s scarce resources spent on incarceration, decrease prison terms for those who can be safely supervised in the community, and remove barriers to successful re-entry through increased supervision and rehabilitation programming.
The reforms should allow Louisiana to shed its status as the state with the nation’s highest imprisonment rate by the end of 2018. We were spending nearly $700 million a year on prison beds, and still 1 in 3 people released were coming back to prison within a few years. The state projects that the measures will reduce the prison and community supervision populations by 10 and 12 percent, respectively, over 10 years and avoid $262 million in spending. The reforms mandate that 70% of the savings be reinvested.
Bipartisan Support for Popular Reforms
A bipartisan task force, whose membership included law enforcement, legislators, members of the state judiciary, as well as the business community, issued a report following the most in-depth study of our criminal justice system to date. The report made recommendations for the much needed legislative solutions.
The 10 bills passed by the legislature this year, included 7 bills by Republican legislators, emphasizing the broad, bipartisan support for the package. The bill was supported by the conservative Louisiana Family Forum, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the District Attorney’s Association. In addition, 68% of Louisianans support bipartisan criminal justice reform.
The House and Senate votes for S.B. 139 (the bill that includes changes to parole and good time) were not particularly close votes. It had strong bipartisan support, and passed by 26-11 in the Senate, 75-30 in the House, and then 20-13 in the Senate concurrence.
Reforms that Work
Louisiana is the latest state to enact such reforms; many others, including Southern states such as Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina, have experienced simultaneous drops in their crime and imprisonment rates.
These editorials from The Advocate and The Times Picayune can provide some insight into why this is an big issue for Louisiana. You can also check out the national news coverage in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.
Starting on Nov. 1, these reforms will begin to go into effect following extreme oversight and with the careful review of each offender’s individual record prior to early release.
95% of all offenders in Louisiana are released under current law. On average, under the new law, offenders will be released 60-90 days earlier than originally scheduled to be released and include only those serving a sentence for non-violent offenses.
Anyone who did not previously have a release date would not qualify for one as a result of the reforms.
All qualifying offenders are being released on parole supervision and were either already participating in or moved to a re-entry facility for recidivism reducing programming prior to release.
The reforms going into effect on Nov. 1 are designed to strengthen community supervision with policies based on the best research in the field when it comes to measuring risk, addressing needs and using sanctions and incentives to break the cycle of recidivism.