Louisiana House Takes First Steps To Shed Its Insanely High Incarceration Rate

Anders Hagstrom | Justice Reporter

Louisiana has held the highest incarceration rate in the world since 2000, but took its first steps toward shedding the title on Tuesday.

The first five bills in a massive 10-bill criminal justice reform package, championed by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, passed through the House and were sent to the Senate Tuesday, The Advocate reports. Edwards and other supporters of the package say it will bring down prison populations by 10 percent over the next decade, saving the state $78 million.

The package has also garnered Republican support, which is likely due to it saving taxpayers money and limiting the size of Louisiana’s justice system. The five bills passed by the House were aimed at getting non-violent offenders out of prison and reducing recidivism, making sure they don’t come back. (RELATED: Sessions’ Latest Move Is Gruff On Crime, Not Tough On Crime)

The major cause for ex-convicts returning to prison is an inability to support themselves financially, according to the group of lawmakers, law enforcement, and judicial officials who developed the package over the course of more than a year.

The bills passed Tuesday would allow judges to grant restitution payment plans according to a convict’s ability to pay them, expand food stamp programs to include eligible ex-cons convicted of drug crimes, and increase the opportunities for convicts to work while serving prison time.

The Louisiana Senate also passed three bills containing the brunt of the package’s sentencing reform, which seeks to drastically reduce the severity of penalties. The House will vote on the bills Wednesday morning.

Not all the legislation made it through the House voting, however. House Bill 680, which would have waived some inmates’ child support payments, met enough opposition to get tabled by its sponsor, Independent Rep. Joe Marino. Despite its failure, Marino said he will re-introduce the bill after making changes.

Most of those opposing the package argued the reforms yielded too much to inmates often at the expense of victims.

“I understand the need to get them back on their feet, but we cannot forget the victims,” Republican House Speaker Sherman Mack said during debate on the House floor regarding reduction of restitution payments.

Following Tuesday’s voting, the five bills not sent to the Senate are still alive and have time to be passed by both chambers before the end of session in two weeks.

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