The need for private prisons is hotly debated. The debate hits harder in Louisiana, since the state is home to more than 36,000 inmates. Just recently, Louisiana Legislature passed the Louisiana Reinvestment Package. The ambitious move will attempt to reduce the state’s prison population by ten percent over the next decade. In return, the state hopes the reduction will lead to cost savings of $262 million. Louisiana spends approximately $700 million each year on corrections. Nevertheless, one in three released inmates are reincarcerated in just three years.
More importantly, Louisiana just happens to lead the nation in imprisonment. The Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task Force released the results of their year-long study in March 2017. The recommendations provided by the Task Force led to the creation of ten bills. All ten bills, which make up the Justice Reinvestment Package, will attempt to lower prison populations by taking the following actions.
- Dedicating beds to individuals that pose a serious threat to society
- Enhancing community supervision
- Clearing barriers to ensure successful reentry into society
- Reinvesting a substantial amount of the savings
Should the strategy go as planned, Louisiana will shed the title of being the most imprisoned state in the country. Louisiana will implement guidelines that will attempt to find alternatives to incarceration and more opportunities to release offenders back into society. Third-time nonviolent offenses and first time lower-level violent offenses will now be eligible for probation.
The measure will also change the state’s medical furlough policy by allowing temporary release to inmates with significantly high medical costs. In return, the costs can be absorbed by the federal government and not the Department of Corrections facility. Certain inmates with life sentences will now be eligible for parole. Inmates serving a life sentence for second degree murder committed after July 2, 1973 and prior to June 29, 1979 will be eligible for parole after serving at least 40 years in prison.
Senate Bill 221 aims to lower mandatory minimum sentences for second and third offenses. Senate Bill 220 changes the sentencing guidelines for theft, drug, and non-violent offenses. The following alterations have been made.
- Possession of a firearm by a felon – Prior 10-20 years, Now 5-20 years
- Unauthorized use of a motor vehicle – Prior 0-10 years, Now 0-2 years
- Home invasion – Prior 0-25 years, Now 1-30 years
- Home invasion, armed with a dangerous weapon – Prior 5-30 years, Now 1-30 years
- Home invasion, vulnerable victim – Prior 10-25 years, Now 1-30 years
House Bill 681 is set to remove restrictions put in place to prevent drug offenders from acquiring SNAP and TANF benefits.
The money saved will be reinvested into programs designed to help reduce reoffending, while also supporting crime victims. 30% will be utilized for grants for community-based prison alternatives. 20% will go for grants for victims’ services. For first year, 50% will be dedicated to Department of Corrections targeted investments. That amount will be cut to 30% for subsequent years. The Office of Juvenile Justice will receive 0% for the first year and 20% for the subsequent years.
Louisiana corrections officials also decided to reduce the daily payments to GEO Group for housing inmates at the Allen Correctional Center in Kinder. The pay per inmate dipped from $31.52 to $24.49. GEO criticized the move and suggested that the decision “will not support returning the center to a full-service correctional facility with robust rehabilitation programs.”
Generally, the state of Louisiana spends more per capita for incarceration than it pays sheriffs and private companies. With GEO’s departure, the Allen Correctional Center will be absorbed by the state. The move also leaves only a single privately-run state prison in Louisiana, Winn Correction Center. LaSalle Corrections took over the prison after Corrections Corporation of America, which is now known as CoreCivic, terminated their contact there last year. The Geo Group’s departure will also lead to 200 workers being laid off on August 20, 2017.
After the transition back into state hands, Allen is expected to employ roughly 160 people. Those impacted by Geo’s layoffs are encouraged to apply for new positions.