New data on the ingredients of Louisiana’s highest-in-the-nation incarceration rate show that the state imprisons people on convictions for nonviolent offenses at vastly higher rates than other states in the region with similar crime rates, reports The Advocate. A report from Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office suggests the state could save $70 million in jail costs by shifting to drug courts nearly 9,000 convicts whose criminal histories are limited to drug possession. Changes to mandatory minimum sentencing laws, if they were targeted to allow judges to sentence thousands of drug offenders to probation and “community programming” rather than prison, could also bring more than $100 million in savings, the report says.
The report notes that many alternatives it suggests, such as drug and specialty courts, local re-entry programs, and diversion programs in district attorneys’ offices, are not available statewide and would need vast expansion. Probation resources and proved rehabilitation services are lacking at many local jails. To relieve the pressure, the report suggests moving more “low-risk” convicts off probation, while reducing the level of supervision for others. The report adds fodder to a bipartisan push aimed at reducing the state’s incarceration rate, 816 prisoners for every 100,000 residents as of 2014. Oklahoma comes in second nationally, at 700 prisoners per 100,000. Louisiana’s incarceration rate is almost 30 percent higher than that of the No. 3 state, Alabama, which locks up 633 of every 100,000 people. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards made reducing that level a priority during last year’s campaign. A task force created by the legislature is developing a package of proposed reforms in time for the 2017 legislative session.