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La. prepares to release hundreds of inmates

30th October 2017   ·   0 Comments

In a matter of days, the number of prison inmates being released from Louisiana jails could nearly double, thanks to reforms passed in the State Legislature earlier this year in an effort to lower a notoriously high incarceration rate.

The reforms, supported by Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, D-La., take effect on Nov. 1.

With more prison inmates per capita than any other state or country, Louisiana has been dubbed the “world’s prison capital,” a situation that has prompted a growing number of elected officials and justice advocates to push for sweeping reforms.

“I have never believed that people in Louisiana are innately more sinister or more criminal than people elsewhere,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said at Loyola Law School on Oct. 20..

After giving serious consideration to taking substantive steps to change the state’s prison culture this past spring, state legislators passed 10 bills that will result in hundreds of prison inmates getting early releases, including inmates who received 20-year sentences for third-offense marijuana possession. That sentence is now reduced to zero to two years.

On average, Louisiana releases 1,500 prisoners each month, but beginning Nov. 1, 1,400 additional non-violent prisoners will be released, FOX 8 News reported last week..

“The good-time law previously required they serve 45 percent of their sentence, now it’s 35 percent because that’s what other conservative states have done,” Edwards said.

Another aspect of this reform package is a requirement that former inmates pay child support. No longer is failure to do so a ticket back into jail, FOX 8 reported.

“They will eliminate mandatory prison terms for drugs and property crimes. We’re gonna let judges be judges again,” Edwards said.

FOX 8 News reported that the reduced prison population is expected to save the state hundreds of millions of dollars, with 70 percent of that money required to go into programs designed to help former inmates stay out of jail.

“Projections are we will save $240 million over 10 years, reinvesting $180 million into community-based alternatives, re-entry programs, job training and programs inside the jail to give people opportunities when they come out,” Rep. Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, told FOX 8.

But some are concerned that legislators may try to use that money elsewhere.

“That will be the key. We have to be disciplined… because we have this fiscal cliff where $1 billion in revenue falls off the books,” Edwards said.

When it comes to hard-fought reforms, Edwards said he won’t allow money needed for prisoner rehab to be spent elsewhere.

This article originally published in the October 30, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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