The Justice Reinvestment Task Force, following several months of work, issued its recommendations to state leaders Thursday on how to reduce Louisiana’s imprisonment rate.
According to the task force, the plan would reduce the prison population by 13 percent over the next decade, reduce the number of people supervised in the community by 16 percent and save taxpayers $305 million.
Key findings in the report: The top 10 crimes were all non-violent, with the most common being drug possession; over half of the people sent to prison in 2015 had failed on probation or parole by violating supervision conditions or engaging in new criminal activity; and one in three people returns to prison within three years of release.
James LeBlanc, secretary of the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections, said the package would help the state “save money and reduce re-offending.” Among the task force’s recommendations:
Implementation of a felony class system to reduce uncertainty in sentencing and release.
Improving the victim registration and notifi cation process.
Expanding alternatives to incarceration.
Revising drug penalties to target higher-level drug off enses.
Establishing a temporary furlough policy for inmates with serious medical needs.
Streamlining parole release for those who are compliant with case plans and institutional rules.
Improving the process for responding to violations of probation and parole conditions with swift, certain and proportional sanctions.
Tailoring criminal justice financial obligations to a person’s ability to pay.
Suspending child support payments during incarceration.
Expanding incentives for inmates to participate in high-skilled workforce development and recidivism reduction programming.
Reinvesting over $154 million saved from lowering the prison population into research-based programs that reduce recidivism and services that support victims of crime.
The Louisiana District Attorneys Association, in a statement included in the report, said it opposed any policy recommendations that go beyond nonviolent and nonserious offenders.
“The association supports any criminal justice reform that is more fair and more appropriate,” said Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier.
He said he is “absolutely in favor” of alternative ways to “keep the public safe and rehabilitate the individual” but expressed concerns with some task force recommendations.
DeRosier said the plan, in many instances, was “lowering the bar to accommodate substandard behavior.” He said that “the sentencing range has dropped tremendously” within the proposed felony class system and that the task force wants to “do away with, to some substantial degree, habitual offenders.”
“When you lower that bar, you are telling criminals that it isn’t going to cost as much if they commit a battery or shoot somebody,” he said. “It won’t cost you as much as 10 years ago.”
The task force didn’t recommend use of specialty courts beyond drug court, which it said was limited by funding and restrictions.
The 14th Judicial District has a drug court, DWI court, veterans treatment court and mental health court, and DeRosier said they have worked well. He said the recidivism rate after completing his offi ce’s pretrial program is “probably 1 to 2 percent.”
DeRosier said it costs about $5,000 per year for a person accused of a nonviolent crime to go through a specialty court and that the annual cost of keeping a person in prison is $15,000 to $25,000.
The state, he said, could take half of its annual per prisoner cost and reinvest it into the specialty court system, saving money and reducing the prison population. “This is the kind of thing that the task force should (have been) looking at,” DeRosier said.
He said there is nothing wrong with society changing its mind and saying that a penalty should be less than “what we thought 20 years ago,” but he took issue with the “rules” being changed “once the game has already started being played.”
“The proponents of change in the current system will tell you that Louisiana is incarcerating too many people so your sentences must be too harsh, your judges must be too harsh, your prosecutors must be too harsh,” DeRosier said.
“They will not even consider the suggestion that people simply don’t want to follow the rules and will not follow the rules no matter what.”
Key findings in the report: The top 10 crimes were all nonviolent, with drug possession the most common; over half of the people sent to prison in 2015 failed on probation or parole; and one in three people returns to prison within three years of release.