1,400 more Louisiana prisoners will be out Nov. 1 as criminal justice overhaul takes effect

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1,400 more Louisiana prisoners will be out Nov. 1 as criminal justice overhaul takes effect


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About 1,400 additional Louisiana state prisoners will be released earlier than expected Nov. 1, as a result of law changes taking effect that month that retroactively shortened criminal sentences. The changes are part of a wider overhaul of the criminal justice system Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Louisiana Legislature undertook in the spring. 


The Department of Public Safety and Corrections typically releases 1,500 people from lockup every month, so the law changes will essentially put twice as many people on the street in November. The number of releases could remain elevated for several months, as the people behind bars affected by the law changes work their way through the system (NOLA.com).

Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc could not say on Friday (Sept. 29) how many people currently locked up will get out earlier than expected after November. In August, LeBlanc said about 3,000 to 4,000 sentences could be changed to make inmates eligible for release before the end of the year. The majority of people whose sentences are affected by the law changes won’t necessarily be getting out anytime soon though, LeBlanc said in August (NOLA.com).

16,000 inmates who could potentially be affected. That’s around 45 percent of the 36,000 people the state had locked up in June. Those documents can only be looked at individually and by hand and the prison system has had to pay staff overtime to sort through them (NOLA.com).

LeBlanc could not say yet how many of these additional offenders being released were from Orleans, Jefferson or St. Tammany parishes. He did not know how many of them would be released from local jails or state prisons, though he said more were coming from state prisons than he expected. State inmates held in local jails — as opposed to state prisons — tend to be those who have committed less serious offenses (NOLA.com).

Louisiana is the only state in the country where most state inmates are housed in jails run by local sheriffs than prisons run by the state. Local jails are less likely to have job training programs, mental health services, educational classes and other services that are supposed to lower the chance of an inmate landing back in prison again for another crime (NOLA.com).


Louisiana is supposed to have about 36,500 state inmates in November, according the Department of Corrections own projections. Removing 1,400 people from that system would be an approximately 4 percent drop in the population. 

Most of the sentencing changes that are resulting in people’s prison sentences ending earlier than expected only apply to non-violent offenses, such as low-level drug convictions. The 1,400 additional inmates being released in November are not expected, for the most part, to be people who committed violent crimes (NOLA.com).

There have been concerns raised about whether the probation and parole system can handle such a spike in people getting out of prison. LeBlanc said corrections is going to dispense extra staff to jails in November to assist with the releases and make sure the transition goes smoothly (NOLA.com).


In addition to the thousands of records for nonviolent offenders being reviewed, a few hundred people convicted of murder — mostly as juveniles — have also become newly eligible for parole under the sentencing changes. But these people are expected to go through a much more rigorous process, one that includes a careful consideration by the parole board, before they would be discharged from prison. Victims’ families and district attorneys will also be able to object to the parole of violent offenders and could keep them behind bars for longer (NOLA.com).

LeBlanc also said anywhere from 60 to 100 people are expected to be placed on medical furlough in December and transferred from prisons to nursing homes. Those releases are technically made on a temporary basis for people who are so sick they are not expected to recover, and are no longer considered a danger to society.

In the event that they become healthy enough not to need full-time medical care, offenders released through medical furlough can be sent back to prison though. Anyone released through the medical furlough program would also be monitored, though most of the people are expected to be so incapacitated that they wouldn’t realistically pose a public safety risk, prison officials have said (NOLA.com).

Louisiana has had a “compassionate release” program for sick and dying inmates for decades, but the state criminal justice overhaul passed by Edwards and the Legislature broadened the number of prisoners who can be included in this program. Medical furlough is available to both violent and nonviolent prisoners. The decision of who is granted release through the program ultimately lies with LeBlanc, who consults prison doctors regarding whether a prisoner who has applied will remain incapacitated (NOLA.com).

One of the motivating factors for broadening the state inmate medical furlough option is that offenders who are locked up are unable to qualify for Medicaid. That means Louisiana has to foot the bill for the entire — often expensive — medical treatment and care without any federal support. A prisoner on medical furlough, however, could be enrolled in Medicaid and then the federal government would pick up most of the tab for that person’s care.


During the 2015-2016 budget cycle, the Department of Corrections spent about $52.3 million on hospital and medical wards in its prisons, plus $22.7 million for health care at off-site locations, for a total of $75 million. A wider medical furlough program is expected to save the state some of that money.   


Ultimately, Louisiana’s criminal justice overhaul is supposed to result in less people going to prison and jail in the first place. The hope is that more people can be diverted into mental health programs, drug courts and other supervision that doesn’t require them to be behind bars (NOLA.com).


To that end, LeBlanc spent Friday in New Orleans highlighting what’s called a day reporting center, where people on probation and parole work on life skills and job training in lieu of going to prison. The enrollees at the center have received a conviction from a judge, but have opted to live at home and go to activities at the recent instead of being locked up. About 200 people graduate from New Orleans day reporting center each year. Each enrollee spends at least 90 days taking classes there (NOLA.com).

LeBlanc said expanding the use of day reporting centers around the state will be key to bringing down Louisiana’s incarceration rate and making sure people who have convicted low-level crimes don’t continue to break the law or escalate their activity.

The state has four day reporting centers — located in New Orleans, Covington, Baton Rouge and Shreveport. Louisiana’s corrections agency pays Sheriff Marlin Gusman to run the New Orleans center. The other three are operated by The GEO Group, a private prison company that operates throughout the country.

See the full article here.

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