(WAFB) - More than 1,900 Louisiana inmates got to walk free early Wednesday as part of new criminal justice reforms passed by the state legislature this past spring. In doing so, those reforms also added to the caseloads of already stretched parole officers.
The new state law, which received bipartisan support, shortened sentences for hundreds of so-called "nonviolent" offenders. One of those was 31-year-old Donavan Gr ant of south Baton Rouge. After being released at 12:01 a.m. from the River Bend Detention Center, Gr ant spent several hours in the Baton Rouge parole office.
"I don't care how long it take, I'm not in jail no more. It could take all day," he said. Gr ant says he was in prison for more than two years on a weapons charge, before being released several months ahead of schedule. This was his second time behind bars, having been locked up for the first time at age 19.
"Being in jail that long, you got a lot of time to think about your mistake," he said.
In the days leading up to their release, officials with the Louisiana Department of Corrections (DOC) say they worked with the 1,900 prisoners to prepare them for the adjustment to the real world. "We have educational tools, it deals with employment tools. A lot of basics," said Jill Angelle, who oversees reentry services for corrections.
But once outside, the former inmates are under the supervision of parole and probation officers, who are already overloaded. In the city of Baton Rouge, each probation officer already manages, on average 146, cases, according to Gerri Garon, district administrator for Baton Rouge Probation and Parole. Garon says the new state law could increase that load for certain officers by another six or seven cases.
While the "ideal" caseload is 100, she says her offiers will "handle it."
Garon says she would of course welcome more staff, however she instead pointed to a different concern: turnover. She says because pay is low and demands are high for probation and parole officers, they do not stick around very long. "This office has had a huge turnover over the last three to four years, and I wish I had a more experienced staff. I have a lot of new people," said Garon.
Still, she says she remains confident in her officers. Gr ant also expressed confidence. Sitting in the parole officer waiting room with his 9-year-old son, he said he is hopeful he can turn his life around. "I got to make all my decisions based upon my kids. What will affect them? What won't affect them? I can't do it my way no more," said Grant.
In a case of what could be considered good timing, on Wednesday, the State Civil Service Commission approved a pay raise for the state's parole and probation officers. It will not take effect until December. Garon is optimistic the raise could help her retain more of her officers.