Today, Gov. John Bel Edwards was joined by Dept. of Corrections Sec. Jimmy LeBlanc, West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Mike Cazes and Judge Rusty Knight of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative Oversight Council to announce the early results of the historic criminal justice reform legislation Gov. Edwards signed into law last year.
“Louisiana recently hit an important milestone: we no longer have the highest imprisonment rate in the nation,” said Gov. Edwards. “In addition, the reform measures now in place have resulted in fewer prison admissions for drug crimes, smaller probation and parole caseloads and enhanced training for officers, and millions of dollars in savings are now available for reinvestment in community programs designed to help offenders who have served their time learn a different way of life, one that will enable them to become productive members of society. While these results are early, they are promising and should give everyone hope that we are reforming our criminal justice system for the better when it comes to our citizens, communities and state.”
The Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) goals include the following:
- Focus prison beds on serious threats to public safety
- Strengthen community supervision
- Clear away barriers to successful re-entry
- Reinvest savings into recidivism reduction and crime victim support
The first annual JRI Performance Report released by the Department of Corrections (DOC) and the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement (LCLE), demonstrates that the state is making progress toward reaching these goals. Most notably, the state is focusing prison beds on serious threats to public safety by:
- Imprisoning fewer nonviolent offenders in costly prison beds: according to the preliminary data the prison population has declined by 7.6% as of March 31, driven by a reduction in the number of people imprisoned for nonviolent offenses, which dropped by 20 percent.
- Increasing the use of alternatives to incarceration for less serious offenses: admissions to prison for drug offenses decreased by 3%, while probation intakes for this same group increased 13%.
- Reducing sentence lengths for drug and property crimes (which have decreased by 10% and 4%, respectively) allowing the state to focus prison resources on violent offenders.
"We are pleased with the direction Louisiana is headed,” said Sec. LeBlanc. “We’re thankful for the Governor’s leadership and commitment to changing what wasn’t working in Louisiana. While we are excited by the changes we are seeing, and the improvements, we understand the work is far from over. In fact, it has just begun.”
The report also demonstrates that Louisiana is improving the effectiveness of community supervision by focusing on the first months of supervision, when people are at the greatest risk of reoffending, and giving probation and parole staff new tools for incentivizing compliance with supervision conditions. As a result, the most current data shows the community supervision population has dropped by eight (8) percent and the caseload has dropped from 143 to 129.
Numerous initiatives are helping the state clear away barriers to successful re-entry: the Louisiana Prisoner Reentry Initiative continues to aim at cutting the recidivism rate of the state’s higher-risk returning citizens by half, and Louisiana residents who have criminal convictions now face fewer barriers to obtaining occupational licenses because of the reform legislation.
“After nearly 40 years of working in law enforcement, the changes I’ve witnessed through these first reform efforts have been life changing in many respects,” said Sheriff Cazes. “To see offenders enter the system at a young age and remain there for years only to be released without any tools to live a productive life caused many of them to return to a life of crime and end up back in jail. Now, through these reform measures we are giving them a chance at having a better life and in turn, improving public safety and our communities. This is exactly why I joined the JRI Task Force. We received input from many people from across this state including advocates and crime victims, and everyone’s hard and thoughtful work culminated in the laws that were passed. I’m proud that they are yielding positive results.”
Most recently, the Department of Public Safety & Corrections has created a Community Incentive Grant Program and issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for qualified community organizations that are interested in enhancing or expanding coordination of reentry services and community supports to increase prison alternatives and reduce recidivism. The first round of funding will be awarded in the fall of 2018.
“With imprisonment down and probation success up, Louisiana is showing early signs of a better public safety return on investment,” said Terry Schuster, an associate manager at The Pew Charitable Trusts, which provided technical assistance to Louisiana’s Justice Reinvestment Task Force.