Hundreds of Louisiana inmates released

Halen Doughty

On November 1, 1,900 inmates walked free. Ten new laws aimed at reducing the state’s highest-in- the-world incarceration rate took effect last week. As a result, hundreds of mostly non-violent offenders were released.

The legislative package won support from both Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards and the Republican-dominated House of Representatives during the 2017 regular session. Criminal justice reform has been a top priority for the governor since beginning his term.

“Stakeholders from both sides of the aisle put their differences aside and found common ground to build comprehensive, bipartisan criminal justice reform,” said Edwards. “We made a decision to build a system that works better for everyone in Louisiana by looking at data-driven evidence, not anecdotes and misleading fear tactics.”

According to the Governor’s Office, the measures will lower the incarceration rate by 10 percent over the next ten years and save the state more than $262 million. Of that, $184 million will be reinvested into programs that will reduce the recidivism rate, as well as services for crime victims. The bills were based on recommendations from the Justice Reinvestment Taskforce, which the Governor commissioned last year.

New Orleans Representative Walt Leger (D) authored one of the measures. He said in a video from the Governor’s Office that during his time as a prosecutor, he saw offenders with drug addictions and mental health problems who could have been better served in the community, as opposed to in a cell.

“Not only is it personally important to me to keep my family safe and my constituents safe, it’s important to me that we invest the taxpayers’ dollars in the appropriate way,” said Leger, “and if we can continue to focus on reinvesting these savings, then we can get the kind of outcomes that the people of this state deserve.”

The reforms were also supported by the Louisiana Family Forum. President Rev. Gene Mills served on the taskforce that recommended the changes. He said the Angola Reentry Court changed his perspective on what can be accomplished in the prison system.

“When you see one of the best untold stories in the state of Louisiana it’ll inspire you again to believe that lives can be turned around, that men and women can be trained with a life skill that will actually support their family, and they can be reunited with their family upon release and become a productive member of society,” said Mills.

The reforms seek to end Louisiana’s reign as the incarceration capitol of the world by the end of 2018. Natalie LaBorde with the Louisiana Department of Corrections changes need to be made because it’s clear our system is not working.

“Of course, there’s an emphasis on the dollars and savings,” LaBorde said, “but that’s all for the purpose of reinvesting back into programs that can help people get back on their feet, turn away from a life of crime, and become contributing members of society.”

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