Louisiana is reviewing 16,000 inmates for sentence reduction or release in anticipation of the state’s massive criminal justice reforms taking effect in November.
The 10-bill justice reform package passed in the spring drastically reduces sentences for non-violent criminals in hopes to cut the state’s highest-in-the-country incarceration rate. The changes will be applied retroactively once they take effect Nov. 1, and the state has begun preemptively reviewing sentences for more than 45 percent of the state’s prison population, according to The Times-Picayune.
The state estimates that up to 4,000 inmates will be release outright by the end of 2017, on top of the 1,500 inmates who typically reach the end of their sentences each month. But many of the 16,000 cases won’t change, according to Public Safety and Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc.
State employees will have to go through the thousands of cases by hand, as the review process is only partly automated. LeBlanc told the Times that the corrections department received a grant in order to pay its employees overtime in the coming months.
Not all of the inmates up for review are non-violent, however. The justice reforms also adjusted penalties for those who commit violent crimes as minors. Several hundred inmates who committed murder as minors are up for review and may get out on parole as a result.
Aside from softening sentences, the state is also focusing on easing prison conditions as well. The state stands to save more than $25 million annually for the next 10 years by cutting recidivism and prison population, and it has pledged 70 percent of those savings to funding re-entry courts and other programs focused on ensuring inmates don’t re-offend. The programs somewhat turn prisons into education centers.
The state’s flagship re-entry court is based at the state prison in Angola, La., and has successfully cut the recidivism rate of participants to just 17 percent, compared to the state rate of 43 percent. Inmates in the program can earn professional certificates in car repair, welding and other practical skills. They can also get a seminary degree through the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, which offers a four-year degree program for inmates.
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