BATON ROUGE – Louisiana has achieved a long-sought milestone: the state no longer has the nation’s highest imprisonment rate.
One year ago, the Legislature passed a bipartisan package of 10 bills aimed at protecting public safety, reducing the prison population, and lowering costs. Governor John Bel Edwards signed the package – the most comprehensive criminal justice reform in state history – into law in June 2017. Since then, Louisiana’s total prison population has decreased by 7.6 percent.
The Crime and Justice Institute (CJI) is providing technical assistance to state leaders as they continue to implement the reforms, which aim to boost alternatives to incarceration for low-level offenders, improve community supervision, and eliminate barriers to successful reentry. Louisiana received technical assistance from CJI and the Public Safety Performance Project of The Pew Charitable Trusts in developing the policy package through the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) process.
Although Louisiana is still in the early stages of implementing the JRI package, the state is seeing promising results.
At a press conference on Thursday (June 28, 2018), Governor Edwards released the first annual JRI Performance Report by the Department of Public Safety and Corrections (DPS&C) and the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement (LCLE). The report shows promising trends towards reaching the package’s goals:
Focusing prison beds on those who post a serious threat to society:
- The overall prison population has declined by 7.6 percent, driven by a reduction in the number of people imprisoned for nonviolent offenses, which dropped by 20 percent.
- Revocations (admissions to prison for failing on supervision) declined by 7 percent.
- Alternatives to incarceration are being used for less serious offenses: admissions to prison for drug offenses decreased by 3 percent, while probation intakes for this same group increased 13 percent.
- Sentence lengths for drug and property crimes have decreased by 10 percent and 4 percent, respectively.
Strengthening community supervision
- Community supervision resources are increasingly focused on the first months of supervision when people are at the greatest risk of reoffending, and Probation and Parole (P&P) has new tools for incentivizing compliance with supervision conditions.
- As a result, the community supervision population has dropped by 4 percent, reducing the average caseload for probation and parole officers from 143 to 135. Lower caseloads allow P&P officers to focus their attention on those individuals who need it most.
- P&P officers are responding to supervision violations with swift, certain, and proportional sanctions, and using jail only when necessary – the use of administrative jail sanctions has dropped by 26 percent, and technical revocations declined by 53 percent.
Reinvesting in recidivism reduction and victim support programs:
- 70 percent of the savings from the reduction of the prison population will be reinvested into programs that reduce recidivism and support victims.
- As part of the reinvestment process, the Department of Public Safety & Corrections has created a Community Incentive Grant Program and recently issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) from qualified community organizations that are interested in enhancing or expanding coordination of reentry services and community supports to increase prison alternatives and reduce recidivism. The first round of funding will be awarded in the fall of 2018.