A package of bills aimed at reducing Louisiana’s world-leading incarceration rate has reached a critical juncture in the state legislature, where supporters hope they have made enough changes to the key components to satisfy concerns of sheriffs and district attorneys, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune. The bills grew out of the work of the Sentencing Commission, and are part of a multiyear effort to lower a state prison population that has more than doubled in the past 20 years while the cost of incarceration has tripled.
Some of the measures are noncontroversial, such as a plan to impose training requirements on Louisiana Parole Board members and improve oversight of home incarceration services. The most far-reaching bills, which would allow nonviolent, nonsex offenders to be paroled faster and earn good-time credits at a more rapid clip, were approved by the House yesterday. Louisiana is among at least a half-dozen states that are taking a fresh look at their sentencing laws as state budgets are strained by decades of tough-on-crime legislation that led to record numbers of people behind bars. Nowhere in the world is the rate as high as in Louisiana, where 1 in 55 residents is locked up. “This really is an evidence-based approach to looking at how can we get a better return on our public-safety investment,” said Richard Jerome of the Pew Center on the States, which is providing research and other help to the Sentencing Commission.