Senator Kennedy clearly does not understand how offenders’ time and release are calculated, or the laws that govern the incarceration and release of convicted individuals. Good time release is a mechanism that has long been a part of the Louisiana criminal code. The district attorneys state that some should have been released but that others should have been screened/not released. The statute governing good-time release for those convicted of non-violent offenses is very clear regarding the allocation of good-time credit – which is not discretionary on the part of the Department of Corrections (DOC). This statute has long been in existence prior to the Justice Reinvestment (JRI) reforms.
Secondly, the real issue is a front end problem related to accurately convicting and sentencing people. The DAs should not plead people down to lesser/non-violent offenses in order to get a high conviction rate. And if they do chose this method, they cannot complain when the law governing the conviction imposes a shorter sentence than that of the original charge. The two November 1, 2017, Act 280 releases accused of murder, have extensive prior arrest records which include several prior suspended sentences where neither did any prison time for these specific offenses. The DAs could have at least prosecuted these individuals at a point in time which could have possibly prevented further crimes. Once actually convicted, both of these offenders spent all of their prison time in local level facilities, and never went through a state reception center, where they could have benefited from state programming. They are the poster children for why JRI is so important to Louisiana. Approximately 80 – 90 percent of all discharges, including the Act 280, November 1, 2017, releases who have been rearrested, were discharged from local jails. This is another issued that our Justice Reinvestment (JRI) strategy is targeting beginning with the five Louisiana- Prisoner Reentry Initiative parishes which generate approximately 50% of the prison population (Jefferson, East Baton Rouge, St. Tammany, Caddo, and Orleans) – which will require that all offenders coming from these parishes go through a state reception center in order to determine appropriate housing placement that includes programming and transitional services.
These reforms have worked in other states, and we have seen them work on a smaller scale. Since 2013, our population and recidivism rates have declined due to previous reforms. The new reforms expand on proven policies, but major change will not happen overnight. We must stay the course.
August 1st marks the one year anniversary of when many of Louisiana’s historic criminal justice reforms became law. Last year, a bi-partisan Louisiana Legislature passed a package of 10 criminal justice reform bills. Many of those laws went into effect a year ago last week, and are already having a positive impact on the state.
As part of the reforms, in the past year the state has saved $12.2 million, doubling original projections. Over the next decade, the state is expected to save $262 million, and reinvest 70 percent of the savings into programs and policies to reduce recidivism and support victims of crime. The state has also shed its claim as the incarceration capital of the world this year. Louisiana’s state prison population is at 32,743 this week, the lowest it has been in more than 20 years, and down from its peak of 40,568 in 2012. These reforms are projected to further reduce the state’s prison population by an additional 12 percent over the next decade.
Community supervision is at approximately 65,000 clients, down from 72,000, the lowest it has been in more than a decade. The reduction is credited to the reforms which include earned compliance credits and maximum supervision of three years for non-violent, non-sex offenses which allow Probation and Parole agents to focus on the highest risk, highest need offenders, providing better public safety and rehabilitation. As a part of the criminal justice reforms, the Department placed five community resource officers in the five parishes sending the most offenders to prison. These officers will locate and develop local resources to help offenders successfully transition from prison back to the community. In addition, the state is opening two additional day reporting centers in Monroe and Thibodaux to serve as a one stop shop to help offenders reenter society. A combination of these reforms and reinvestment into programs and services, staff training, and engagement of community partners is expected over the next decade to further reduce the community supervision population by at least 12 percent.
The first year of reforms are detailed in a report the Department of Public Safety and Corrections released earlier this summer, and can be viewed by clicking here.
The reduction in prison population and the initial savings can primarily be contributed to the implementation of Act 280, which became effective on November 1, 2017. Act 280 modifies the good time rate for offenders serving time for non-violent and non-sex crimes. As a result of its initial implementation, 1,952 offenders released on the effective date of the bill, November 1, 2017. Many of these individuals released only 30-90 days earlier than they would have under the previous law, and received pre-release programming in an effort to help them successfully transition back to the community.
As of this week, 120 of those released on November 1, 2017 are back in custody as a result of a revocation of supervision based on a violation of the conditions of supervision or new criminal activity. This translates to 6.1 percent recidivism after three quarters of a year. Approximately 70 percent or these individuals violated their parole or committed new crimes after their original release date, and would have been out anyway. Louisiana’s average for recidivism within a full year of release is 15.56 percent. The Department calculates recidivism based on a complete year’s worth of data, and won’t have a complete reflection until early next year. There are an additional 112 offenders currently being detained, many for felony crimes, and their cases are awaiting adjudication. While these cases would not be included in recidivism numbers until they are revoked or convicted of the crimes for which they are charged, if they were all to be convicted, the recidivism for the first three quarters of the year would be 11.8 percent, and tracking with the state’s usual one year recidivism average. With the additional dollars for reinvestment, we can anticipate that those who release through the increased availability of transition programs and services will certainly return at a much lower rate.
In the meantime, the state has issued Request For Proposals (RFP) for the community incentive program under the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI). It is open to qualified community organizations interested in enhancing and expanding re-entry services and providing community supports with the goal of expanding prison alternatives and reducing prison admissions and recidivism.
The reforms have proven to work in other similar states, and Louisiana expects to see the same successful results.