Justice reforms working as intended
The Louisiana Department of Corrections (DOC) saved $12.2 million over the last year because of the criminal justice reforms approved by the Legislature in 2017 with major support from Gov. John Bel Edwards. The reforms include more parole and probation opportunities, programs aimed at helping people committing low-level offenses avoid prison and some early prison releases.
The reforms stipulate that 70 percent of the savings ($8.5 million this time) must be spent on vocational training, education and drug treatment for inmates and people released from prison and victim services. Some sheriffs will get money to conduct those same programs for state prisoners in their local jails.
Non-profit groups, parishes and judges will get $2.6 million. The Times-Picayune/NOLA.com said the DOC would accept grant requests for efforts that help people avoid prison or that prevent people who have been released from committing another crime.
Sheriffs close to the five parishes that send the most inmates to prison will receive $2.3 million. Those parishes are Orleans, Jefferson, St. Tammany, East Baton Rouge and Caddo. The sheriffs will use those funds for rehabilitation efforts.
Another $1.9 million will be used for expansion of transitional housing for people to go when they leave prison, for specialty courts that are alternatives to incarceration and for day reporting centers. These programs will also be focused on those five parishes.
Victim services are to receive $1.7 million. A family justice center will be opened in Baton Rouge to provide services to crime survivors and their families. Clerks of court will receive money to improve the system of notifying victims when something changes in the cases that affected them.
A major concern when the reforms were enacted last year was that legislators might use the criminal justice reform savings to balance the state budget. However, lawmakers on the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget approved using the $8.5 million as the law stipulated.
Some prisoners who were released early have committed new crimes, but the number of repeat offenders has declined.
Reforms have already made it possible for Louisiana to shed the record of having the highest incarceration record in the nation. It’s only at No. 2 now, but the reforms have just begun and are already showing positive results that should improve that ranking.
In this file photo, Gov. John Bel Edwards visits with business leaders Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017 at the SEED Center to discuss criminal justice reform, which has been met with resistance from some district attorneys.