Louisiana appears poised to implement a criminal justice overhaul that Gov. John Bel Edwards calls historic and the biggest step the state has ever taken toward reducing its highest-in-the-world incarceration rate. Edwards and the state’s district attorneys announced a compromise that is expected to reduce the prison population 10 percent and save the state $78 million over 10 years, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune. The Edwards administration admits the initiative might not drop Louisiana from having highest per capita prison population in the U.S. to the second highest, as he had hoped. The governor’s staff said he plans to come back in 2018 with more proposals to reach that goal. As a candidate for governor in 2015, Edwards pledged to put Louisiana on track to shed its No. 1 national ranking by the end of his first term in office.
The compromise package also would redirect $184 million from conventional incarceration toward “reinvestment” programs such as prisoner rehabilitation, drug counseling and job training for offenders. Programs that benefit crime victims also would receive a piece of this money. Some reinvestment funding would also go to local sheriffs, who stand to lose funding if Louisiana sends fewer state prisoners to be housed in their jails. Should they be enacted, the changes would affect most prisoners convicted of nonviolent offenses such as theft, burglary and drug possession. Some nonviolent offenders already in prison could also become eligible for parole earlier. The negotiated compromise dropped proposals for shorter sentences and other release efforts for violent offenders currently in prison, at the insistence of prosecutors.