Louisiana House members support probation extension bill

<p class="p1">BATON ROUGE — Southwest Louisiana House members supported legislation here that rolls back a probation change that was approved last year as part of a 10-bill criminal justice reform package.</p><p class="p3">House Bill 195 by Rep. Sherman Mack, R-Albany, increases a person’s probation period from three to five years. It was approved 61-30 and moves to the Senate. Mack said a longer probation would allow judges more latitude and would ultimately keep offenders out of prison.</p><p class="p3">Voting for the bill were Reps. Mark Abraham, R-Lake Charles; James Armes, D-Leesville; Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur; Stephen Dwight, R-Moss Bluff; A.B. Franklin, D-Lake Charles; and Frank Howard, R-Many. Reps. Johnny Guinn, R-Jennings; Bob Hensgens, R-Abbeville; and Dorothy Sue Hill, D-Dry Creek, who is on a week’s medical leave, were all recorded as absent..</p><p class="p3">Rep. Joe Marino, No Party, Gretna, was chief spokesman for the opposition. He said supporters of the Mack bill weren’t giving criminal justice reform a chance to prove its success. Opponents are worried about their re-election chances, he said, but they would be supported when the reform effort is successful.</p><p class="p3">Marino said the longer probation will increase the workload of probation and parole officers when each is already handling 140 cases. He said the change isn’t minor, but a substantial setback. </p><p class="p3">Judges wanted the major tweak to last year’s change to give them more authority to extend probation, Mack said, and more authority over earned (good-time) compliance credits they receive while on probation. </p><p class="p3">Mack said the Louisiana District Attorneys Association wanted the change. </p><p class="p3">Gov. John Bel Edwards advocated for last year’s changes that he said will reduce the state’s No. 1 incarceration record and save costs involved that money can be used for better retraining of inmates before they leave prison. </p><p class="p3">He opposed the probation change.</p><p class="p3">District attorneys wanted the change because they said persons preferred to stay on probation for 18 months (half of the three years if on good behavior) rather than participate in drug and other specialty courts.</p><p class="p3">Other legislation on the agenda deals with restitution payments by offenders. </p>

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