Louisiana will take a bold step next month toward lowering its excessive incarceration rate, but that plan for the early release of hundreds of inmates across the state is creating some opposition in the law enforcement community. The legislature approved a set of 10 bills this year called the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Package that is designed to reduce the state’s prison population by 10 percent and save taxpayers $262 million over the next decade.
There was strong support for the legislation from the Louisiana District Attorneys Association, business and religious leaders and others, but some law enforcement officers like Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator have expressed concern with the early release program. Opposition from Prator intensified recently when he reviewed the list of convicted criminals that will get out of jails and prisons in Shreveport and across Caddo Parish on Nov. 1 before their sentences are completed. Prisoners serving time for sexual offenses, murder and other violent crimes will apparently be excluded from the early release program, but the Caddo sheriff cited some other criminals that he considers dangerous who will be freed from prisons next month.
One of the individuals Prator fears could pose a threat to society when discharged from prison early has been arrested 52 times under 34 aliases for such crimes as manslaughter, domestic battery, multiple thefts and drug charges. Louisiana has had the highest incarceration rate in America for years and spends $700 million annually on corrections. Still, the state has one of the nation’s highest rates of recidivism, or the re-arrest and re-confinement of former prisoners. One of every three criminals released from prison in Louisiana returns to jail for crimes committed after gaining their freedom. So Prator’s concern that prisoners who are released early under the new program could be re-arrested and jailed again is understandable. Louisiana must lower its incarceration rate and cannot continue to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to house prisoners. New sentencing laws that provide curtailed jail time or alternatives to incarceration have been chipping away at incarceration rates. Early release programs that will shift some corrections funding to treatment, education and supervision initiatives could also drive down the excessive and expensive incarceration rate in Louisiana.
But the safety of citizens already threatened by one of the highest crime rates in the country should be a primary factor in efforts to lower incarceration levels. Prator’s concern about the release of prisoners whose records indicate they might commit additional crimes must be a part of the conversation about early releases.