Prison population reduced under Justice Reinvestment Reform Act


Sheriff’s candidates weigh in on issue

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Gov. John Bel Edwards released Louisiana’s Justice Reinvestment Reforms 2019 Annual Performance Report, which shows Louisiana has saved more than $12 million because of these reforms – twice what was projected. “This report provides a comprehensive review of data on the historic reform efforts thus far, and the results continue to be promising,” said Gov. Edwards. “Louisiana is no longer the incarceration capital of the nation, we have saved over $12 million which is more than double what was projected and are reinvesting those dollars into programs that are helping to reduce recidivism, improve public safety and support crime victims.

Everything we have put in place is based on data-driven policies that are successful in other southern states and are now having the same impacts in our state. It is still early in this process and there are more lessons to learn and more challenges to meet, but we are taking significant steps toward improving our criminal justice system.”

Significant takeaways include:

•Reduced Prison Population: Louisiana’s total prison population has continued to decrease. It has fallen from a peak of 39,867 individuals at the end of 2012 to 32,397 individuals as of the end of 2018. As a result, Louisiana no longer has the highest imprisonment rate in the nation.

• Sentence Length Down for Nonviolent Offenses: The State has seen significant decreases in sentence length for nonviolent offenses. Drug offenses have seen the largest decrease by the end of 2018 with a drop of 17%, followed by property offenses with an 8.3% decrease. The average sentence length for new felony admissions decreased from 76.6 months to 73.2 months (3.7%). The sentence reductions are based on research findings that longer sentences for nonviolent offenses do not make people less likely to re-offend or strengthen public safety.

• Decrease in Use of Habitual Offender Enhancements: The use of Habitual Offender enhancements, which allow for increased penalties for crimes based upon the existence of previous convictions, decreased significantly (-74.3%). This reduction is attributed to both prosecutorial and judicial discretion as well as legislative changes which limited the scope of its application.

• Reduction in Probation and Parole Population and Officers’

Average Caseloads: The State has seen a significant decrease in the total supervised population as well as the average caseload of Probation and Parole Officers; from 149 in 2016 to 123 by the end of 2018. The reduction is attributed to new incentives that allow people to earn time off supervision based upon compliance with supervision conditions. Prior to the passage of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) legislation, Louisiana was leading the nation in imprisonment, with a rate nearly double the national average. The State was also sending people to prison for nonviolent offenses at 1.5 to 3 times the rate of other Southern states with similar crime rates. The policy choices that led to this situation were costing the state nearly $700 million annually on corrections.

Despite this investment, one in three inmates released from prison returned there within three years. Following lessons learned from successful criminal justice reform efforts in other Southern states as well as the best available research, Louisiana developed a comprehensive, data-driven and bipartisan plan. This was designed to steer people convicted of less serious crimes away from prison, strengthen alternatives to incarceration, reduce prison terms for those who can be safely supervised in the community, and remove barriers to successful reentry.

Additional background and details about the initial implementation of the Justice Reinvestment legislation, and additional performance data is included in the full report.