Some red states like Louisiana and Texas have emerged as leaders in the movement to divert offenders from prisons and into drug treatment, work release and other incarceration alternatives. Louisiana, with the nation’s highest incarceration rate, has loosened some mandatory minimum sentences and made parole slightly easier for offenders to get. Louisiana reformers are running into stiffening resistance, especially from local prosecutors. In some places, there’s been considerable pushback, especially to the idea of eliminating prison time for drug offenders.
Liz Mangham, a lobbyist, has represented the conservative sentencing reformers. While they’ve made progress, she says they appeared to cross a red line this spring with a bill to step down Louisiana’s stiff penalties for possession of marijuana. “the halls were full … of [district attorneys] and sheriffs coming down to oppose the bill,” she says. The bill died on the spot. She says it’s understandable why most sheriffs opposed the bill, because they house state prisoners in parish jails and every prisoner represents a payment from the state. “So when you’re making money to warehouse prisoners, why on earth would you be in favor of sentencing reform?” Mangham says.