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Revisiting Criminal Justice Reforms

Sarah Gamard/LSU Manship School News Service

Louisiana’s Legislature is already reconsidering a package of criminal justice reforms they passed last year. The goal was to lower the state prison population, which is the highest in the nation.

“The ship is still headed in the same direction that we're looking to reinvest our money to where we get a better pay out within the criminal justice system," said Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge), "but you always have to make adjustments.”

Under last year’s reform, probation terms were lowered from five years to three — in an effort to steer non-violent offenders away from prison.

Senator Claitor has a bill this session that would allow judges to extend a probation period by up to two years, giving them more discretion when offenders don’t meet the terms of their probation.

“The judges feel they are not able to wield, traditionally, both the carrot and the stick and that some people respond well to incentives, some people respond well to the idea that they may go back to jail," Claitor said.

Advocacy groups say this is a step back from progress made last year. John Burkhart works in criminal justice reform for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“When someone has completed three years of probation, they’ve really walked a minefield and made tremendous progress," said Burkhart. "The way we see it, we don’t need these people to stay on probation."

By increasing a probation term, he says the chances are greater that an offender would be sent back to prison.

“If the whole mission of what we’re trying to do is lower our incarceration rate, increase public safety and reinvest that money — sending more people to prison, I’m going to call that a rollback,” Burkhart said.

Sen. Claitor says his bill would only impact offenders who aren’t in compliance with the program. It’s already gotten full approval from the Senate and is expected to be heard in a House committee Wednesday.