One Month Later: Status update on Louisiana's criminal justice reform efforts

One Month Later: Status update on Louisiana's criminal justice reform efforts
Officer Miguel Guajardo graduates (Source: WAFB)
Officer Miguel Guajardo graduates (Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Just a month after 1,900 inmates were released early as part of a prison overhaul in Louisiana, the corrections secretary says, "everything has worked out okay so far."

Sec. Jimmy LeBlanc made the remark at a graduation ceremony for 23 new probation and parole officers, individuals he says are "vital" to the work done by his department.

Of the 1,900+ prisoners released on November 1, the Department of Corrections says four did not follow up with probation and now have warrants out for their arrest. That's fewer than the number who do not show up following a regular monthly release, according to Pete Fremin, director of probation and parole for the state.

A handful of former prisoners have also been re-arrested. That includes a case out of Kenner, where a habitual offender was released early, then arrested again for armed robbery. LeBlanc notes that's to be expected, as about 15 percent of inmates typically re-offend.

A bipartisan coalition of state lawmakers passed widespread prison reform legislation during the 2017 spring session. The new laws aim to cut back on Louisiana's top-ranked prison population.

Despite the cases of recidivism, LeBlanc calls the new laws a step in the right direction. "I think it's a success," he said. "Knock on wood... in this business, you're one phone call away from disaster."

When it comes to probation and parole officers, their average caseload has crept up since the early release took place. Across the state, the average caseload has risen from 141 before November 1 to roughly 144, according to Fremin. At the Baton Rouge Probation and Parole office, early release caused a steeper climb. Caseloads for regular probation officers grew from 146 before to 156 after, according to Gerri Garon, district administrator for Baton Rouge Probation and Parole.

Still, Garon remains optimistic. "So far so good, no major problems," she said.

Whether the uptick is small or more sizable, these average caseloads all still far exceed the "ideal" caseload of 100. That did not deter the new probation and parole grads. "As long as you stay on top of it with your time management, it shouldn't really be an issue, so I'm not worried about it," said Kaitlin Cowley, who will be joining the Baton Rouge office.

In addition to Cowley, another graduate will be working in the Baton Rouge area. Neill Jones will be joining the Feliciana District.

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