Public Safety in Louisiana

Public Safety in Louisiana

This page was updated on June 17, 2016, to reflect new data.

In June 2016, state leaders charged the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task Force with developing a comprehensive set of data-driven recommendations to prioritize prison space for serious and violent criminals, hold offenders accountable, and invest the savings in alternative interventions for lower-level offenders that work better than prison and cost less. 

The task force, created last year by the Legislature through H.R. 82, is receiving technical assistance from Pew through the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. The commission’s recommendations are due to Governor John Bel Edwards and state lawmakers next March for consideration during the 2017 legislative session.      

The task force represents the latest effort by Louisiana lawmakers to address the state’s high incarceration rate. Louisiana’s prison population has grown by 35 percent over the past two decades, from roughly 27,000 inmates to more than 36,300, solidifying the state’s imprisonment rate as the country’s highest, at nearly double the national average. Recidivism is also high: Nearly 4 in 10 state offenders released from Department of Corrections facilities return within three years.

This effort builds on other reforms made in the state in recent years. In 2007, Louisiana lawmakers unanimously approved legislation that set a 90-day limit on the incarceration of offenders whose probation or parole was revoked for a first failure to comply with supervision rules. Pew concluded in a 2014 assessment that offenders subject to the 90-day cap were 22 percent less likely to return to prison for a new crime than those who served considerably longer periods behind bars for a first technical violation. In addition to maintaining public safety, the revocation cap saved prison space, resulting in net annual savings to taxpayers of $17.6 million.

In 2011 and 2012, then-Gov. Bobby Jindal signed legislation to simplify the calculation of “good time” and earned-time credits that promote rehabilitation of lower-level offenders and to extend parole eligibility to more first- and second-time offenders. The legislation also allowed the waiver of mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders if the prosecutor, defense counsel, and judge agree; authorized administrative sanctions for parole and probation violations; and expanded re-entry courts for offenders returning to the community. Finally, in 2015, the state enacted H.B. 161, limiting long prison stays for repeat violations of probation and parole.

These steps were projected to reduce the state’s prison population and crime rates and to save Louisiana more than $243 million over 10 years. Since 2011, the inmate population has declined 8 percent and violent and property crime rates also have fallen. These trends put Louisiana on the growing list of states demonstrating that it is possible to reduce imprisonment and crime rates at the same time.