In 2017, the Louisiana legislature passed a sweeping, comprehensive package of 10 bills as a part of the state’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI). The bills received bipartisan support throughout the state to accomplish four goals:
- Focus prison beds on those who pose a serious threat to society,
- Strengthen community supervision,
- Clear away barriers to successful reentry, and
- Reinvest a substantial portion of the savings into evidence-based programs that reduce recidivism and services that support victims of crime.
This year, state leaders passed additional criminal justice reforms (below), proving their ongoing commitment to the four JRI goals and to making changes to the state’s justice system that benefit more Louisianans.
House Bill 77 continues to strengthen community supervision in Louisiana by allowing parole and probation officers to conduct virtual meetings in lieu of in-person check-ins, and by requiring officers to accommodate the work schedule of people they supervise when scheduling meetings. These considerations reduce the challenges people face on supervision and help them to be successful. House Bill 643 further strengthens parole by allowing officers to reduce the level of supervision and/or fees assigned to a parolee who has served a minimum of three years without a violation and who has met all other conditions. This provides an added incentive for people to comply with the conditions of their supervision.
Legislators also took action to improve reentry. Senate Bill 354 requires the Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections (DPS&C) staff members to provide an identification card to someone upon release that lists all the vocational licensing and certification programs they completed while incarcerated. In addition, House Concurrent Resolution 14 directs the DPS&C, Louisiana Department of Health, and Louisiana Department of Education to identify additional solutions and resources that address barriers impeding a person’s successful reentry into communities.
The legislature showed its commitment to supporting the success of justice-involved women by passing House Bill 344. The bill prohibits the use of ‘solitary confinement,’ or restrictive housing as it is now known in the field, for a person who is pregnant, less than eight weeks postpartum, or caring for a child, except in narrow circumstances.
The original JRI changes in 2017 came as a response to the realization that the state was spending a considerably high amount on its corrections system while at the same time producing low public safety returns. A report released by the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task Force led to the creation of that JRI legislative package after finding that, the year before in 2016, Louisiana:
- Spent nearly $700 million annually on corrections,
- Sent people to prison for nonviolent offenses at 1.5 to 3 times the rate of neighboring states with similar crime rates and had a growing number of inmates serving very long sentences, and
- Led the nation in imprisonment, with a rate nearly double the national average and significantly higher than the second- and third-highest states.
Despite the state’s massive investment in corrections, Louisiana taxpayers were not receiving public safety benefits, as the 2017 report also found that one in three people released from Louisiana prisons returned within three years.
The actions taken by the Louisiana legislature this year reflect their continued commitment to addressing the findings released in the 2017 report and to data-driven criminal justice policymaking.
In addition to those noted above, the Louisiana legislature passed the following criminal justice-related bills during its 2020 regular session: House Bill 173, House Bill 417, House Bill 529, Senate Bill 32, Senate Bill 407, House Resolution 67, and House Concurrent Resolution 91.