WASHINGTON—The Pew Charitable Trusts today lauded Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (D) for signing a comprehensive package of bipartisan criminal justice legislation intended to protect public safety, control corrections costs, and hold people accountable for their crimes.
The legislation—S.B. 16, 139, 220, and 221, and H.B. 116, 249, 489, 519, 680, and 681—is designed to safely reduce Louisiana’s prison population by 10 percent over the next 10 years, saving $262 million. Seventy percent of the savings, or an estimated $184 million, will be reinvested in crime victim services, alternatives to prison, and programs in jails and prisons aimed at reducing recidivism. The reforms also are designed to decrease the community supervision population by 12 percent over the next decade, reducing probation and parole officer caseloads from 139 to 119 cases per officer.
“These landmark reforms will help Louisiana reduce both crime and incarceration,” said Adam Gelb, director of Pew’s public safety performance project. “Driven by hard data and backed by a diverse coalition of policymakers and stakeholders, the reforms reinforce the bipartisan movement across the country toward criminal justice policies that work better and cost less.”
The new laws are based on policy recommendations from the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task Force, a group of criminal justice experts and key stakeholders that conducted a 10-month examination of state sentencing and corrections trends, the best research on what works to reduce recidivism, and proven criminal justice strategies from other states. The Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a public-private partnership between Pew and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, provided data analysis and technical assistance to the task force.
In March, the task force issued a set of comprehensive recommendations for legislative action, drafted into 10 bills by a bipartisan team of state senators and representatives for the 2017 legislative session.
The task force found that Louisiana’s prison population produces high costs with low public safety returns. The state imprisonment rate leads the nation, and Louisiana spends nearly $700 million annually on corrections—but 1 in 3 inmates released from prison returns within three years. Further, while Louisiana has crime rates similar to those in South Carolina and Florida, the state sends people to prison for nonviolent crimes at twice the rate of South Carolina and three times that of Florida.
Among other provisions, the new laws will:
- Reduce drug penalties for offenses involving small amounts of controlled substances.
- Make theft and property damage a misdemeanor rather than a felony if the value of the property is less than $1,000.
- Eliminate certain mandatory minimum sentences and reduce habitual offender penalties.
- Streamline the parole release process and expand eligibility for prisoners to earn time off for participation in programs proved to reduce recidivism.
- Expand eligibility for probation, drug court, and other alternatives to prison.
- Reduce community supervision terms.
- Provide opportunities for parole consideration to some of the state’s longest-serving inmates, including those with severe medical needs and most juveniles sentenced to life without parole.
- Create payment plans for criminal justice fines and fees based on income, and establish debt forgiveness for those who make consistent payments.
- Improve processes for victim notification and set parole conditions that protect the victims’ safety.
Since 2006, the Justice Reinvestment Initiative has provided data analysis and technical assistance to more than 30 states, including Louisiana’s neighbor Mississippi as well as nearby states Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina.
The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems. Learn more at pewtrusts.org.
America’s Overdose Crisis
Sign up for our five-email course explaining the overdose crisis in America, the state of treatment access, and ways to improve care
Louisiana has the highest imprisonment rate in the U.S., but that may change as a result of comprehensive criminal justice reform passed this summer.