For the first time in a decade, a political consensus was emerging last year in Louisiana that it was time to cut the state’s highest-in-the-nation incarceration rate, says the New Orleans Times-Picayune. In the past two decades, the state’s prison population has more than doubled, with one of every 86 residents serving time. Weeks later, a state Sentencing Commission, revived by Gov. Bobby Jindal after years of dormancy, produced a package of bills aimed at tackling some of the key factors driving the increase, including long sentences for nonviolent crimes and large numbers of offenders being sent back to prison for violations of parole or probation.
The five bills would eventually pass and get signed by the governor, but only after the most important parts — the ones that would have actually reduced prison sentences — were removed under pressure from sheriffs and district attorneys. This year two of the commission’s failed measures were revived and have progressed smoothly through the Legislature, with Jindal’s backing. The measures are unlikely to have a substantial effect on the incarceration rate, and the cost savings will not be immediately apparent, but their passage provides a ray of hope for reformers. The balance has remained tilted toward law enforcement. “The three easiest votes for a legislator are against taxes, against gambling and to put someone in jail for the rest of their lives,” said state Sen. Danny Martiny, a veteran policymaker who has led the judiciary committees in both the House and Senate.