LA Sheriffs, DAs Blocked Some Justice Reforms

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A Louisiana criminal justice overhaul that would benefit nonviolent offenders is on the verge of passage, but elected sheriffs and district attorneys blocked more-sweeping bills that would have eased penalties for violent criminals, the Wall Street Journal reports. Sheriffs are going along with lighter sentences for nonviolent offenders, but they argue that reducing penalties for some felonies and making long-serving offenders eligible for parole would endanger public safety and dishonor their victims. More than 42 percent of Louisiana prisoners commit another crime within five years. “We can’t just open the floodgates,” said East Feliciana Sheriff Jeff Travis, who formerly worked for the state prison system.

Law and order isn’t the only guiding principle. Louisiana sheriffs get $24.39 a day from the state to house each inmate. Less state revenue to house inmates means fewer corrections jobs and less cheap inmate labor. Sheriffs and prosecutors lobbied hard against some of the 10 bills backed by Gov. John Bel Edwards. They won key concessions, including that most of the 5,000 offenders serving life sentences will continue to be ineligible for parole. The original bills were projected to cut the prison population by 13 percent and save $305 million over 10 years. The $24.39 per diem—which hasn’t budged since 2008—leaves little money, if any, for rehabilitation programs. “Lock and feed,” Louisiana Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc calls it. “They basically spend a few years up there learning how to be a better criminal.” Another pending bill would invest 70 percent of the estimated savings into rehabilitation programs for prisoners and support services for victims.

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