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Louisiana's Incarceration Rate Drops After Implementation Of Criminal Justice Reforms

Wallis Watkins

Gov. John Bel Edwards announced, "the state of Louisiana no longer holds the title of incarceration capital of the nation."

Louisiana is now second to Oklahoma, as a result of criminal justice reform legislation passed last year. The goal of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative is to expand probation, parole and re-entry opportunities for non-violent offenders, diverting them away from prison.

"We wanted to focus prison beds on serious threats to public safety," said Edwards.

At a press conference in West Baton Rouge Parish Thursday, Edwards revealed preliminary results of the reforms, which started going into effect last August.

The number of prisoners is falling at a faster rate than expected - right now, there are just over 33,000 inmates within the Department of Corrections, led by Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc.

“That’s the lowest it’s been in 20 years," said LeBlanc.

The state is imprisoning 20 percent fewer people for non-violent offenses. And the number of people sent to prison for drug possession has dropped by nearly half.

Also dropping are the caseloads for probation and parole officers. Secretary LeBlanc says that allows officers to focus on the most serious cases.

“We’re able to spend more time with the people we need to be spending time with," said LeBlanc.

Prior to the reform, the state was spending $700 million a year on corrections. Because there are fewer people in prison, the state is expected to save money - exactly how much won’t be known until next month, but Edwards says so far, it's more money than anticipated. Though Edwards says it’s about more than just cutting costs.

"This is about making the people of Louisiana safer," said Edwards.

70 percent of those savings are required to be spent on programs that will support victims and keep ex-inmates out of prison once released.