By District Attorney Billy Joe Harrington
On Nov. 1, over 1,900 incarcerated offenders were released early from custody as part of the “Justice Reinvestment” legislation enacted earlier this year. According to the information provided by the La. Department of Corrections, 16 offenders are from Natchitoches Parish. According to the enacted legislation, the early release of state offenders will create a $262 million in savings in the cost of corrections in Louisiana over the next 10 years. The cost savings is intended to be “reinvested” into programs and policies to reduce recidivism and to support crime victims. Although the legislation provides for non-violent and non-sex crime offenders to be released, I have serious concerns about this action.
First, these released offenders may have prior convictions of a crime of violence, which will not prohibit their release. Also, some of these offenders are convicted of serious felony charges, but those charges are not considered a crime of violence in the legislation. Second, our office has no control or input with the Department of Corrections as to which offenders are considered for release.
Furthermore, a state audit released this week stated the Department of Corrections does not have a formalized, consistent method for calculating offender release dates. This ambiguity further raises my concerns. The District Attorney’s Office is working closely with Sheriff Victor Jones and the Natchitoches Parish Sheriff’s Office on this matter. Sheriff Jones is aware of the offenders being released and will continue to monitor the situation and provide the necessary law enforcement to protect the parish from any potential problems that may occur.
My most serious concern is for the victims and for public safety. The District Attorney’s Office prosecuted these cases with the responsibility to the victims and to the public that convicted offenders will be justly and fairly punished, and hopefully rehabilitated, before returning to our community. That’s why Sheriff Jones and I went to Baton Rouge this year and testified against this legislation.
Both the District Attorney’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office believe in positive rehabilitation and supervised re-entry into society for offenders. But this must be done correctly, with all facets of law enforcement participating to ensure that victims are protected, our parish is safe, and offenders will join the workforce and remain crime free.