The state with the highest incarceration rate in the U.S. just approved a criminal-justice-reform package that is expected to lower its prison population by 10 percent over the next 10 years. Members of the Louisiana Legislature agreed to the package of bills Thursday; the bills will move on to the desk of Gov. John Bel Edwards, who will sign them into law.
The criminal-justice overhaul, it is also predicted, will save the state $78 million over the next 10 years, according to the Times-Picayune, and it could be the hallmark achievement of 2017 for both lawmakers and Edwards, who campaigned on a commitment to lower Louisiana’s prison population from the nation’s highest incarceration rate to the second highest by the end of his first term.
In a written statement, Edwards said that he was proud of the Legislature’s work on the bills and looked forward to signing them into law when they made it to his desk.
“For too long, Louisiana has had the highest incarceration rate in the nation,” Edwards said in his written statement. “We will begin to reverse that very soon.”
According to the Times-Picayune, the bills were unanimously supported in the state House and Senate, even those that give more leniency to violent offenders.
Once the laws are enacted:
- Defendants convicted in the future of crimes related to theft, burglary and drugs would face shorter sentences and parole and probation periods
- Thresholds for being sent to prison in some cases would be raised
- The number of people on probation and parole would increase by 1,200 over the next two years
- When inmates first come out of prison, they would be expected to face fewer financial burdens
- Judges would be allowed to reduce and waive fines for ex-inmates who cannot pay
- Ex-inmates wouldn’t be faced with large child support bills that have accrued while they have been behind bars either
- Drug felons could qualify for food stamps and other welfare benefits
- Ex-convicts would be able to get a business license more easily
- Notification to crime victims when criminals come up for probation would be strengthened.
The measure was applauded by both the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana and the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice.
“These measures represent landmark reform to Louisiana’s broken criminal-justice system and a major step forward in reducing a prison population in a state that incarcerates more of its people than anywhere else in the country,” Marjorie Esman, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana, said.
“These reforms don’t just reduce the jail and prison population; they reunite families, and ultimately strengthen our communities,” she continued. “Is there more work to do? Yes. Our system is complex, resulting from centuries of bad policies. These reforms have us moving in the right direction and create the momentum needed to truly make our justice system fair.
“This is an important moment for our state, and we were proud to work with so many lawmakers, advocates across the political spectrum and Louisianans impacted by this system to pass these substantial reforms that will have a real, positive impact on people’s lives,” Esman added.
“Washington should take note of Louisiana’s actions, as well as the actions of other states, in advancing meaningful criminal-justice reform with strong bipartisan legislative and voter support,” Udi Ofer, director of the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice, said. “Louisiana’s actions are an important first step to reforming the state’s criminal-justice system. The legislature is not off the hook, and additional reforms are still needed, but these measures represent a key moment in the larger push to end mass incarceration in the United States.
“Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the country, and in the world, and is one of the most important battlegrounds for the longer fight for truly advancing justice,” Ofer continued. “As the federal government sprints backwards on this critical issue, reverting back to policies that have failed for 40 years, the states are leading the way in building stronger communities and families.”