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Criminal Justice Reform Package to take effect next month in Louisiana

October 12, 2017
By Caresse Jackman
Originally Posted on WWL

In less than a month, a bipartisan measure to reduce the Louisiana prison population will go into effect.

"Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the world," Deputy Assistant Secretary with the Department of Corrections said. "And you would think if we're locking up this many people that we would actually have lower crime rates than other states, but the fact is that we don't have lower crime rates either."

This year, ten bills passed in the legislature, making up the Justice Investment Package. 

Starting Nov. 1, around 1,600 non-violent offenders who qualify for good time release will get out early. 

The Department of Corrections says nearly all of those inmates would have been released within a few months of the November date. The move will also save the state about $356 million over the next 10 years by reducing the prison population by 10 percent. 

Last Thursday, Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator held a press conference expressing his concerns that the program is moving too fast.

"I don't want state prisons. Okay. They are a necessary evil to keep the doors open that we keep a few or keep some out there. And that's the ones that you can work," Prator said. 

Some of his comments created a fire storm on social media. 

"They're releasing some good ones that we use everyday to wash cars to change oil in our cars, to cook in the kitchen to do all of that where we save money. Well they're going to let them out," Prator said. 

"To say that I need bodies because I need my cars washed, that's what slavery is about! You know, to force people to do work because you need work to be done! That has nothing to do with pubic safety and if that's really what he's doing then I think he's got some problems with the people that he may be incarcerating there, Esman said. 

The Governor's Office released the following information: 

A point-by-point breakdown of the Sheriff’s comment, along with the facts, is below. It’s important to note that 68 percent of Louisianans support bipartisan criminal justice reform. 

Louisiana took historic steps to reform its criminal justice system and remove its label as the highest incarceration state in the nation.  Our state has the same crime rate as other states, but we incarcerate more people at a faster pace. 

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.

The sheriff’s comments don’t reflect the views of the people of Louisiana, nor do they accurately depict what’s happening with criminal justice reform. 

It followed one of the most in-depth studies of a bipartisan task force looking into the state’s criminal justice system.  Task Force members included law enforcement, legislators, members of the state judiciary, as well as the business community.   

These are non-violent offenders.     

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. 

The biggest point to make which many opponents fail to mention is that  nearly all of the releases are people who would have been released within a few months of November anyway. 

Other states that made changes like these have seen both imprisonment and crime drop.  Some examples include: 

· Texas:  Since their 2007 reforms, the imprisonment rate is down 16%, and crime is down 30%. 
· South Carolina:  Since their 2010 reforms, their imprisonment rate is down 16%, and crime is down 16%. 
· North Carolina:  Since their 2011 reforms, their imprisonment rate is down 3% and crime is down 20%. 
· Georgia:  Since their 2012 reforms, their imprisonment rate is down 7% and crime is down 11%. 


Louisiana made history this year by passing comprehensive bipartisan criminal justice reform measures. Today, Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator held a press conference in which he gave inaccurate information about the reform legislation that merit clarification:

1) FALSE: Offenders whose sentences are seeing small reductions include multiple offenders of the most violent crimes. 

FACT: The criminal justice reform legislation applies solely to non-violent offenders who qualify for good time release. 

2) FALSE:  The Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association opposed criminal justice reforms. 

FACT:  The Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association did not oppose the legislation that passed enacting these reforms. Additionally, the reforms were supported by the Louisiana District Attorney’s Association.

3) FALSE:  There is no support for these reforms in Louisiana’s judicial system. 

FACT:  These reforms are based on the most in-depth study of the criminal justice system ever done in Louisiana’s history.  They were done in comparison to penalties in other conservative southern states and the recommendations will move Louisiana in line with those states that have seen a reduction in their incarceration and recidivism rates. 

4) FALSE:  These reforms will make our communities less safe. 

FACT:  All evidence tells us our communities will be safer.  Louisiana’s prison population and recidivism rate have not only stabilized but declined as a result of similar reforms made by the Louisiana Sentencing Commission These new laws expand upon those reforms that have already shown to reduce the incarceration and recidivism rates.  Additionally, offenders will have access to better rehabilitation, treatment and job training programs.  The money saved by these measures will be re-invested into communities statewide. 

5) FALSE:  Offenders qualifying for minimal release are being released far earlier than they would have been before the legislature passed the reform bills. 

FACT: The offenders we’re talking about here would have served 40% of their sentence, but are now serving 35%. That ends up being only two months shaved off of the time they would have served while amounting to significant state savings.

6) FALSE:  The offenders qualifying for slightly shorter sentences are being released without proper vetting by the Department of Corrections and they have not received adequate rehabilitation programming. 

FACT: The record of every single offender qualifying is being reviewed individually prior to release. Probation and parole officers are aware of all new parolees coming to their districts. Additionally, money saved through these reforms will be reinvested into rehabilitation programs that will reduce recidivism and spur increased savings in the future. Statewide polling shows us that Louisianans care most about preventing crime, not the length of a sentence.[1] 

7) FALSE: Louisianans don’t want these changes. 

FACT:  Sheriff Prator is incorrect. Statewide polling shows that a majority of Louisianans support ending mandatory minimums,[2] safely reducing penalties for low-level drug offenses,[3] less prison time for non-violent offenders when paired with a greater use of alternatives[4] and reducing sentences and reinvesting the money saved in treatment and supervision programs.[5]

8) FALSE: Reform measures passed swing the “jail doors” wide open and leave them open. 

FACT: On average, the Louisiana Department of Corrections releases 1,500 inmates per month.  In the very early stages of implementing the reform legislation, that number will increase to around 3,000 who qualify for good-time release, but level off to the normal rate over time.   The inmates scheduled for release are already receiving rehabilitation services and their probation and parole officers have been notified and are aware of the inmates who will be arriving in their districts. 

9) FALSE: Sheriff Prator incorrectly stated that these changes were done “under the radar” and that legislators and sheriffs did not know what was in the bills. 

FACT: That couldn’t be further from the truth. A bipartisan task force comprised of legislators, sheriffs, district attorneys, victims’ advocates, judges and others held regular, public meetings. The legislation was debated in open hearings in the legislature. The governor and other supporters spoke to the media about these efforts regularly. In fact, reforms were based on the most in-depth study of the criminal justice system ever done  in state history and comparison to penalties in other conservative southern states and the recommendation was to move la more in line with those state that have seen a reduction in recidivism rate. If Sheriff Prator had these questions or reservations as this process was unfolding over a year ago, he could have taken advantage of many opportunities to participate in the process.