Louisiana prison head says budget cuts could slow criminal justice reform efforts

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A year after the state overhauled its criminal justice system, one report said Louisiana is no longer the incarceration capital of the world.

But Department of Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc said proposed budget cuts could force the state to move prisoners to local jails, or even release non-violent, cooperative prisoners for a couple of days each week.

"I don't think it's safe," LeBlanc said. "I don't think it makes any sense whatsoever, and that is what I'm hoping the legislature will come to grips with."

LeBlanc said he fears a possible increased strain on local law enforcement could prevent the state from capitalizing on savings the reform package is expected to bring in.

"In this kind of chaos, it just wouldn't be a reality," LeBlanc said. "We just couldn't do what we want to do."

Reinvestment is a major component of the reform process that was designed to reduce recidivism rates in Louisiana. The legislation frees about 10 percent of the state's prisoners and could save the state nearly $300 million over the next decade.

A little over 1 percent of Louisianans are in prison, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, which just released a study indicating Oklahoma has passed the Pelican State to become the incarceration capital of the world.

LeBlanc said he cannot confirm the study's numbers yet, but that he's optimistic the reform can work if it's funded.

"This initiative is going to save our state an awful lot of money down the road, and to put this in jeopardy where we are right now is just something I'm hoping we can avoid," he said.

Lawmakers will try for the third time to raise revenue on June 18. If they cannot reach a compromise, the state could be forced to make about $600 million in cuts.

A tax bill that would have reduced cuts fell seven votes shy of final passage in the second special session. LeBlanc says he's optimistic the legislature can come to a compromise next week.

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