Louisiana’s criminal justice overhaul saved the state $12.2 million, twice as much as experts had expected in the first year of the program, but less than the Department of Corrections had announced it would save just last month, says Gov. John Bel Edwards. Changes to criminal laws last year resulted in Louisiana’s prison population dropping to its lowest level in 30 years, which led to the savings, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports. The state probation and parole population is also the lowest it has been in eight years. By law, 70 percent of money saved from the criminal justice changes must be used on education, inmate reentry, life skills, drug treatment and other programs aimed at keeping people out of prison.
That means the state should have $8.5 million available for those anti-incarceration efforts in the coming year. The remaining $3.7 million can be absorbed back into the state’s overall budget and used for purposes other than criminal justice. “Just as we’re beginning to reinvest in reentry programs, these savings will give so many people a new lease on life,” Edwards said. The Department of Public Safety and Corrections had announced in mid-June that it expected the savings to be even higher, about $14 million. That would have allowed for more money, about $9.8 million, to be spent on anti-incarceration efforts. A report to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget shows the difference between the two numbers can be attributed to the use of different formulas for calculating the savings. The Pew Charitable Trusts — which has provided technical assistance to Louisiana for over two years — calculated the savings by using the growth in the prison population that was projected if the criminal justice overhaul never took place. That is why it came up with a higher savings total, around $13.9 million.