1,400+ additional La. inmates released as part of prison reform laws

Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB

(WAFB) - About 1,400 inmates across Louisiana were released earlier than expected as part of criminal justice reforms passed by the state legislature earlier this year.

However, some district attorneys worry the state is not doing enough to keep those offenders from going right back to jail.

"What are we going to do for these people to make sure they don't re-offend and victimize anyone again," asked Hillar Moore, district attorney for East Baton Rouge Parish.

Moore worries the safety nets to rehabilitate criminals and prevent them from returning to prison are not there. On average in Louisiana, he says the recidivism rate is over 40 percent. "We just keep re-arresting them and housing them again, and then changing the legislation to let them out again without giving them the basic tools they need to succeed. To me, it's insane," said Moore.

The 1,400 prisoners were released at midnight as part of a new law shortening sentences for some described as "non-violent."

Each month, the Department of Corrections releases about 1,500 prisoners, meaning reforms doubled on November 1. As part of the prison reform efforts, any money saved from reducing the prison population is supposed to be reinvested to create that safety net. However, those savings will not come until reforms are enacted.

Corrections Sec. Jimmy LeBlanc said his agency is doing all it can to work with inmates, even with limited funding. For example, he explained inmates received 50 to 100 hours of transitional training before they were released, teaching them how to line up housing and jobs. This was particularly important for the roughly 80 percent of the 1,400 currently kept at parish prisons, where they do not regularly receive rehabilitation services.

"They're getting out anyway," said LeBlanc, noting that on average, these 1,400 inmates are only getting out about 60 days early.

LeBlanc said his agency also received a $500,000 gr ant to cover the costs of overtime for probation officers, allowing them to handle the additional caseload. Probation officers, LeBlanc noted, are already stretched thin. They each have a caseload of about 148 individuals. LeBlanc called 100 individuals "manageable."

"Could something happen? Certainly, something could happen and I'll pray it doesn't, but it was probably going to happen anyway," said LeBlanc.

Some have argued that labeling the roughly 1,400 inmates released as "non-violent" is misleading. Some inmates may have been involved in violent crimes, but got plea deals, allowing them early release.

"That's not my problem, that's a problem on the front end," said LeBlanc.

Overall, LeBlanc insisted public safety is not at risk, instead saying this is a change that needs to happen.

"If we don't do it here, I don't know when you do it. I don't know how you move in the right direction," he said.

Moore said his office will be closely monitoring those released and reporting back to the legislature on the potential successes and failures of the law change.

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