Louisiana no longer bears the name of prison capital after falling to the number two spot behind Oklahoma. Governor John Bel Edwards announced results of the first Justice Reinvestment Initiative Performance Report since justice reform legislation was passed in 2017 at the West Baton Rouge Parish Prison alongside Sheriff Mike Cazes, Dept. of Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc, Judge Rusty Knight of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative Oversight Council and Rep. Edmond Jordan.
The reforms have given offenders a second chance they never had, especially those ages 18-20, Cazes said in his welcoming address.
“With these new acts and these new reforms I’m happy and proud to say reinvestment through this parish has graduated over 1,500 offenders in the last two years,” Cazes said.
Data from the report, which Gov. Edwards cautioned as extremely preliminary, show a 20 percent reduction in the number of people imprisoned for a nonviolent crime, a seven percent decrease is overall prison population, 18 percent drop in admissions for first-time felonies, and admissions for drug possession nearly halved.
“While these results are early, they are promising and should give everyone hope that we are reforming our criminal justice system for the better when it comes to our citizens, communities, and state,” Gov. Edwards said.
The report does not announce official savings as a result of the reform but notes nearly $14 million in savings, more than double the original $6 million projection. Official numbers will be released in July, at the end of the fiscal year. Those savings will be reinvested into recidivism reduction and crime victim support.
The money will be distributed by grants the following ways: 30 percent for community reentry services and prison alternatives; 20 percent to support crime victim services; and 50 percent within the Department of Corrections for programming for inmates.
“We are beginning to see the fruits of our labor,” LeBlanc said. “It isn’t easy, but it’s sure worth it.”
Other goals of the JRI include focusing prison beds on those who pose a serious threat to public safety, strengthening community supervision, and clearing away barriers to successful reentry.
“With imprisonment down and probation success up, Louisiana is showing early signs of a better public safety return on investment,” Terry Schuster, an associate manager at The Pew Charitable Trusts, which provided technical assistance to Louisiana’s Justice Reinvestment Task Force.