On November 1, some 1,400 inmates serving time for nonviolent, non-sex offenses will be released from Louisiana state prisons earlier than expected.
It’s part of the Criminal Justice Reinvestment Package, which legislators and Gov. John Bel Edwards hope will slice the state’s highest-in-the-nation lockup rate.
“We need to find a better way to do things,” said state corrections secretary James LeBlanc. “That’s what this is all about.”
The overhaul is poised to depopulate state prisons by 10 percent over the next 10 years, save hundreds of millions in corrections spending, and reinvest 70 percent of savings to public safety programs. But district attorneys like Ricky Babin — whose district includes Ascension, Assumption and St. James parishes — wonders if the releases will threaten public safety.
“There will be some that re-offend,” he said. “Those victims are going to have to deal with it if they do re-offend.”
Babin said on the first day the law takes effect, 24 inmates from his district will walk free; including one arrested in 2004 for second-degree murder. He struck a plea deal and received a 30-year sentence for conspiracy to commit murder, a nonviolent offense.
“The actual crime they’re convicted of does not necessarily reflect their danger to society,” Babin said. “Call it what you want, but that person who participated in the murder of another human being is getting out after 10 years in prison and will be walking the streets among us.”
LeBlanc says the 1,400 inmates being released on Nov. 1 are only getting out 60 days early, on average. He argues that his agency does not control plea deals, adding that none of the inmates going free on the first are currently serving for violent convictions.
“I mean, can I hold someone guilty of a violent offense that he wasn’t convicted of?” he said. “I can’t help what was done on the front end.”
East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore, who predicts hundreds of offenders in his parish to walk free in less than two weeks, claims the state lacks the safety nets that would help keep inmates from returning to prison. He says the recidivism rate in Louisiana is more than 40 percent.
LeBlanc maintains that the state is prepared for the transitions. Before any release, LeBlanc says, inmates complete 50 to 100 hours of programs teaching them how to secure housing and jobs. For probation and parole officers, the Department of Corrections has received a $500,000 grant to cover overtime costs.
“This is not some kind of mass exodus of inmates just going out into the open,” he said. “Risk assessments will look at prior arrests, maybe something they’ve been arrested but not convicted for. All that plays a role in their level of supervision when they get out.”
Louisiana has averaged 1,500 inmate releases each month. While November could see nearly double that amount, subsequent months will see only a slight jump from the current average. Starting December, between 30 and 50 additional prisoners will be released each month, as the law takes effect.