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SPLC: What the public should know about the Nov. 1 prison release of 1,400 people serving time for non-violent offenses in Louisiana

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a package of 10 criminal justice reform and reinvestment bills earlier this year that will reduce the state’s prison population by 10 percent and scale down the parole/probation population by 12 percent over the next decade.

As part of these reforms, approximately 1,400 people serving time for non-violent, non-sex offenses will be released from prison on Nov. 1.

These individuals have been prepared by Department of Corrections staff to return to their families and communities. Their release signals progress for a state that has become infamous as the world’s leader in incarceration, despite having a crime rate similar to its neighboring states.

By reducing the number of people in prison and the length of their sentences, the state is expected to save $262 million, 70 percent of which will be reinvested into programs that will improve public safety by preventing crime and reducing recidivism.

“Ninety-five percent of people who are incarcerated will ultimately return to our communities. It is in everyone’s interest for them to succeed upon release,” said Lisa Graybill, deputy legal director of the SPLC. “To ensure that happens, we must provide a support system to facilitate success, prevent recidivism, and protect public safety.”

The SPLC is part of the Louisianans for Prison Alternatives (LPA) coalition, which helped win bipartisan support for the reforms.

Below is more information about the forthcoming release of individuals from the criminal justice system:

  • These numbers are not unusual. The Department of Corrections already releases approximately 1,500 inmates per month; about the same number of people who would have been released in two months will now be released in one.
  • These individuals are not in prison for violent crimes. Those being released on Nov. 1 have been serving time for non-violent, non-sex-related offenses.
  • The percentage change in eligibility is minor. The reforms have resulted in a 5 percent change in the amount of “good time” a person can earn. Previously, individuals were eligible for release after serving 40 percent of their sentences; now it’s 35 percent.
  • Most individuals being released on Nov. 1 are already close to their release date. Under the new laws, people are being released on average just eight weeks earlier than their projected release date under the previous policy.
  • They are participating in re-entry programming. The Department of Corrections has worked to identify those being released so every individual will complete a pre-release curriculum before returning home. The reforms ensured this curriculum is available to all individuals being released from all facilities, not just those that have a transition specialist.
  • Probation and parole officers are prepared. Their caseloads will rebalance within six months as additional reforms – those that will allow individuals to earn compliance credit and terminate their supervision early – go into effect.

As part of the LPA coalition, organizations such as the SPLC, the American Civil Liberties Union and Voice of the Experienced – a grassroots organization of formerly incarcerated people who seek to end discrimination against individuals with criminal convictions – took the message of change to residents and lawmakers through town halls across the state and a rally at the state capitol that drew 600 people. The result was the passage of reforms crafted from the recommendations of a task force that reviewed and analyzed Louisiana’s criminal justice system.

The reform bills, which were approved by state lawmakers earlier this year, were supported by a variety of stakeholders including district attorneys, law enforcement personnel, business leaders, crime survivors, formerly incarcerated people and prison reform advocates.

These changes may help the state lose its title as the world’s leader in incarceration. Louisiana incarcerated 776 people per 100,000 residents in 2015 – far beyond the national rate of 458, according to Justice Department data.