Justice Reinvestment: Roughly 1,400 state inmates to be released on Nov. 1

(Source: KALB)
(Source: KALB)(KALB)
Published: Oct. 12, 2017 at 1:35 PM CDT
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On November 1, about 1,400 state inmates will be released early as part of sweeping changes to Louisiana's criminal justice system.

In the spring, Governor John Bel Edwards and the state legislature introduced a bipartisan reform package that includes, among other things, a reduction in prison terms for non-violent offenders. That includes offenses like drug and property crimes.

The state calls it "Justice Reinvestment" and state officials believe the reforms could save the state more than $260 million in prison spending over the next 10 years, with 70-percent of that savings reinvested into the community for criminal justice programs.

But, not everyone is on board.

In the most recent list provided to sheriff's offices in the state and obtained by News Channel 5, the state plans to release early 48 inmates from the Rapides Parish system, 20 inmates from the Avoyelles Parish system, and 47 inmates from the Raymond Laborde Correctional Center.

The sheriffs in Rapides and Avoyelles parishes aren't happy about it. In fact, they're not confident that those inmates won't return.

"I have no confidence in them staying out of jail," said Sheriff William Earl Hilton of Rapides Parish.

"I haven't talked to anyone who is a fan of it," said Sheriff Doug Anderson of Avoyelles Parish.

It doesn't stop there. In Vernon Parish, 11 inmates from the system will be out early on the same date. And, in Grant Parish, one will, although that number, like those in the other parishes is likely to grow.

In June, Governor Edwards, joined by members of the "Justice Reinvestment Task Force," signed a package of 10 bills aimed at reworking the criminal justice system.

The goal is to keep less serious offenders out of prison and to instead push alternatives to help them get their lives back on track.

Secretary James LeBlanc of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections helped lead the effort.

"It wasn't like we were behind closed doors," he told us. "This is a project that was talked and done for about over a year. Everybody needs to understand that everybody had the opportunity to put input into this process.

The package of bills was crafted with the help of law enforcement and had the support of the District Attorney's Association. The bill that pertains to parole and good time passed 26-11 in the Senate and 75-30 in the House.

LeBlanc also pointed out that many of these offenders would have been released within a few months anyway.

"Anybody with 10 years or less is getting out an average of 60 days early," he said.

But, these two sheriffs have serious concerns about inmates re-entering their communities. Their biggest concern is inmates re-offending.

"I hope I'm wrong," said Sheriff Hilton. "I wish all of them to be productive citizens of society, but they haven't been up to this point. And, I don't know that they're going to change."

Sheriff Anderson told us one of the people on the release list is 31 years old with 24 arrests under his belt.

"He's a burglar and a thief and a dope dealer," Sheriff Anderson said. "What do you think he's going to do when he gets out of jail?"

LeBlanc said maybe the greater issue falls with the judicial system that failed to convict that person those 20-something times.

"If they are guilty of a violent crime, lets convict them," he said. "Lets not plea bargain or let them sit in jail for two or three years and then go and say, well if you plea to this, we'll get you out and you get credit for time served. That happens more than we like to say in a lot of cases."

Both Sheriff Hilton and Sheriff Anderson told us another thing this release is impacting is their work release programs, since they rely on mainly non-violent offenders to do work around the parish.

LeBlanc said a committee of five people is currently reviewing every case leading up to that November 1 release day. We're also told that those released will be on "rigorous supervision."