Louisiana Criminal Justice Reform: Changes

Wooden gavel and old book

Wooden gavel and old book

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A comprehensive overhaul of criminal justice laws was approved by the Louisiana Legislature in 2017, driven in part by Gov. John Bel Edwards‘ pledge to shed the state’s reputation for being the incarceration capital of the world. Dozens of changes will slow, or perhaps reverse, the “tough on crime” trend that has dominated debate over the past few decades (NOLA.com).

The changes are designed to reduce Louisiana’s prison population by 10 percent and save the public $78 million over the next 10 years. “Louisiana incarcerates too many people for too long at too great of an expense. And we are not safer as a result,” Edwards said in April.

We broke down the the changes into three parts. Read more about them here:

Louisiana lawmakers approved a criminal justice system overhaul — one that advocates are calling historic — during the 2017 regular legislative session. We’ve broken down the package into three parts. Here’s the first part, about changes to parole and probation laws:

 

First-time violent criminals

For people convicted for the first time of a violent crime that carries a prison sentence of 10 years or less, judges will now be allowed to suspend or shorten the post-prison probation and parole period. This will not apply to child pornographers or domestic abusers, however. This change takes effect Nov. 1 and could apply to people already in prison. It does not affect sentencing for crimes such as murder, kidnapping or armed robbery, which are punishable by more than 10 years (NOLA.com).

Repeat offenders

For a person convicted of some third felonies, judges will have the authority to shorten their post-prison probation period. Judges do not have that discretion under current law. This change will take place Nov. 1 and could apply to people already in prison. It does not apply, however, in the case of violent crimes such as murder or kidnapping, certain types of fraud and child pornography (NOLA.com).

Three-time felons

Currently, people who are convicted of three felonies — even non-violent crimes — are not eligible for parole. Beginning Nov. 1, parole will be an option unless the third conviction was for a violent or sex crime. This change does not affect people already in prison (NOLA.com).

No more minimum

Some lower-level violent crimes now carry an automatic probation period of one year. That will removed from the law on Nov. 1. This could affect people who are already in prison.

Shorter parole and probation

For some offenses — not the most serious ones — the maximum probation and parole period will be shortened. It is now five years, but will drop to three years.

Parole violators

If a person violates parole in certain ways, the judge will now be restricted on sending the violator back to prison. The violations at issue are a single positive drug test, changing residence without permission, associating with other felons, traveling without permission or failure to pay victim restitution for up to three months. Additionally, a person found twice to be drinking alcohol could not be sent back to prison unless he or she was convicted of something related to drunk driving or domestic abuse (NOLA.com).

When a parole violation does return a person to prison, the violator could be re-incarcerated for shorter amounts of time unless the underlying crime was considered violent or a sex offense. These new parole rules will go into place Nov. 1.

 

Easier to earn ‘good time’

Prisoners will be allowed more quickly to earn credit toward an earlier release and reduce their sentence. Participation in educational programs, drug treatment and work programs will reduce incarceration time for some inmates. This change affects only those people convicted after Oct. 31; no one who is currently incarcerated will benefit (NOLA.com).