Louisiana Legislation Aims to Lower Incarceration Rate
We are living in a wild political time in Louisiana, where D.A.s and Sheriffs come together with liberal jail reform types. It helps that our governor, Bobby Jindal, acts like he’s lost in the desert, and doesn’t know which way is up, down, or sideways. He has lost a ton of support all over the legislature. His leadership levels have slipped a large way since being elected, so almost anything is possible, if it saves money for the state. Here’s to creative solutions like the following!!
A package of bills aimed at reducing Louisiana’s world-leading incarceration rate has reached a critical juncture in the Louisiana Legislature, where supporters hope they have made enough changes to the key components to satisfy concerns of sheriffs and district attorneys.
The bills grew out of the work of the Sentencing Commission, and are part of a multi-year effort to lower a state prison population that has more than doubled in the past 20 years while the cost of incarceration has tripled.
Some of the measures are noncontroversial, such as a plan to impose training requirements on Louisiana Parole Board members and improve oversight of home incarceration services.
But the most far-reaching bills, which would allow nonviolent, non sex offenders to be paroled faster and earn good-time credits at a more rapid clip, have been stalled on the House floor. Both bills are scheduled for debate today.
“There’s no reason for some of these people to sit in jail and cost the taxpayers a ton of money when they’re not violent and have a very low rate of recidivism,” said Rep. Joe Lopinto, R-Metairie, who is sponsoring both bills. “That saves room for our violent offenders that should be in jail.”
Louisiana is among at least a half-dozen states that are taking a fresh look at their sentencing laws as state budgets are strained by decades of tough-on-crime legislation that led to record numbers of people behind bars. Nowhere in the world is the rate as high as in Louisiana, where 1 in 55 residents is locked up.
“This really is an evidence-based approach to looking at how can we get a better return on our public-safety investment,” said Richard Jerome, a project manager with the Pew Center on the States, which is providing research and other help to the Sentencing Commission.
The cost factor has helped win support from some conservatives, who were a driving force behind the stiff laws popular during the 1980s and 1990s that took away discretion from judges and prosecutors and led to scores of nonviolent drug offenders serving long sentences.