Sentencing reform could improve public safety at less cost - KNOE 8 News; KNOE-TV; KNOE.com |

Sentencing reform could improve public safety at less cost

Posted: Updated: June 6, 2012 09:36 PM

By Victoria Shirley

MONROE, La. (KNOE 8 News)- The number of inmates in Louisiana has doubled since 1992 costing tax payers millions of dollars. Now the state is looking for ways to improve safety, while saving money.

"Now if the crime is done, the old saying is if you do the crime you do the time." said Republican State Senator Bob Kostelka. About 40 thousand Louisianians are locked up, costing tax payers 670 million each year. "As long as there is crime, tax payers unfortunately, you're going to have to pay for prisons, or else you are going to have the criminals on the street and they don't want that either." said Kostelka.

But now the state is looking for ways to improve public safety, at less cost by reducing the amount of inmates. 8 pieces of "Smart on Crime" legislation have been signed by the Governor. The laws will increase parole eligibility, waives minimum mandatory sentences for non violent crimes, and focuses resources on high risk offenders. The aim is to cut costs by reducing the amount of inmates.

Supporters say the sentencing reform is a first step in lowering incarceration rate, but Kostelka says the new laws won't necessarily solve the problem. "We do have one of the highest incarceration rates, but it's not because they are just locking everybody up, it's just that there's a lot of crime out there, so what do you do about it."

Governor Jindal has signed the entire package of recommendations made by the sentencing commission.

Here are the new laws, courtesy of the Louisiana Sentencing Commission:

RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE LOUISIANA SENTENCING COMMISSION
ADOPTED BY THE LEGISLATURE IN THE 2012 REGULAR SESSION

 

  • Act 160 provides leaders in law enforcement and the judicial system with the discretion to waive minimum mandatory sentences for non-violent crimes (House Bill 1068 by Representative Lopinto). Louisiana's numerous "one-size-fits-all" mandatory minimum statutes contribute to higher incarceration rates and a greater share of taxpayer dollars going into the corrections system. As a result, the Sentencing Commission worked with District Attorneys, judges, and defense attorneys to craft a proposal to authorize a waiver of mandatory minimum provisions—on a case-by-case basis and only when all three of these public safety stakeholders agree it is appropriate. The waiver is only applicable to non-violent and non-sex felonies and misdemeanors. It can be applied before or during trial as part of a negotiated plea agreement, or after conviction at the time of sentencing.
  • Act 159 revises the criteria for parole eligibility (House Bill 1026 by Representative Lopinto). In 2010, prisoners convicted of non-violent offenses made up 82 percent of the 17,358 offenders admitted to Louisiana prisons. Prior Louisiana law authorized the Parole Board to consider first-time parole-eligible offenders after serving 25 percent of their sentence and second-time offenders after serving half of their sentence. In 2011, the Sentencing Commission proposed authorizing the Parole Board to consider second-time non-violent offenders after serving 33 percent of their sentences. Act 159 applies only to non-violent, non-sex offenders who are sentenced after August 1, 2012; it did not change the parole eligibility for any offenders in prison when the bill was enacted into law.
  • Act 110 revises and simplifies the "good time" and earned credit statutes (House Bill 994 by Representative Lopinto). State prisoners can earn "good time" and "earned time" credits by complying with prison rules and participating in programs that reduce the likelihood of recidivism and increase the amount of time to transition back into the community while on supervision. In 2011, the Sentencing Commission recommended a change in the "good time" calculation from a rate of 35 days for every 30 days to one and one-half day for every day. Under this new law, offenders will serve 60 percent of their sentence under supervision (compared to 54 percent under the prior law). This allows the Department of Corrections to focus its resources on high risk, violent offenders. This provision only applies to non-violent, non-sex offenders who are sentenced after August 1, 2012; it did not change the "good time" for any offenders in prison when the bill was enacted into law.
  • Act 158 clarifies provisions of the newly enacted administrative sanctions law to ensure it is implemented as intended by the legislature (House Bill 512 by Representative Moreno). In 2011, the Sentencing Commission recommended the creation of a system of immediate administrative sanctions, which the Louisiana Legislature and Governor Jindal enacted into law. Last year's legislation was enacted because most revocations of probation and parole are not for new crimes, but for breaking the rules of supervision (such as not reporting to a probation officer or failing a drug test). In implementing the new sanctions process, the need arose for clarification regarding the admission of a violation by the offender. It is important to note that offenders who are arrested for a new felony or a serious misdemeanor are not eligible for administrative sanctions. However, similar to drug courts, an admission that the offender violated the terms of his probation or parole would not automatically subject him or her to prosecution of a new offense. The Sentencing Commission recommended clarification that the admission made in the context of the sanctions process—and the documentation known as the Notification of Administrative Sanctions—would not be used against the offender in court. Rather, the new crime would need to be separately investigated and prosecuted by law enforcement. This clarification will allow the administrative sanctions process to be fully utilized as intended when it was enacted by the Louisiana Legislature.
  • Act 123 repeals costly and under-utilized Risk Review Panels (House Bill 432 by Representative Lopinto). Created by Louisiana law in 2001, the Department of Corrections operated three Risk Review Panels—in north, central, and south Louisiana—which were intended to evaluate the "risk of danger to society which each person who has been convicted of a crime and who is confined in a prison facility of any kind, may present if released from confinement." This data was meant to inform the decision making of the pardon and parole boards. However, in practice, these panels became costly and time-consuming, while providing few recommendations to the board. The Department of Corrections reported fewer and fewer cases eligible or suited for the Risk Review Panels. In fact, in 2010 and in 2011, there were no early releases granted as a result of panel recommendations. Through the Louisiana Risk Need Assessment (LARNA), re-entry programs, and other efforts, such as the Sex Offender Assessment Panels, the Department is thoroughly evaluating offenders for risk prior to their hearings in order to inform the pardon and parole boards. As a result, the Sentencing Commission recommended eliminating the statutes related to the duplicative and costly function of formal Risk Review Panel
  • House Bill 521 by Representative Moreno expands Louisiana's Re-Entry Courts as a targeted means to rehabilitate eligible offenders and reduce recidivism. Almost 95 percent of the offenders in Louisiana prisons will be released into the community, and nearly half are re-incarcerated within five years of their release. In recent years, Louisiana instituted a Re-Entry Court Pilot program in Orleans Parish Criminal Court in 2010 to tackle the recidivism problem. Similar to other specialized venues, such as Drug Courts, eligible non-violent offenders are sentenced by the court to participate in a Re-Entry Court program, where the Department of Corrections must provide workforce development, GED and literacy training, substance abuse treatment, and other specialized programs to fully rehabilitate an eligible offender. When the offender completes the program, he returns to court and may be re-sentenced to intensive supervision on probation. Nearly 100 offenders have since been sentenced to the Re-Entry Court program, which is housed at Angola State Penitentiary. The Sentencing Commission recommended the expansion of the Re-Entry Court Pilot program beyond Orleans Parish, as public safety leaders in both the 19th Judicial District Court in East Baton Rouge Parish and the 22nd Judicial District Court in Washington and St. Tammany Parishes expressed a desire to participate. The Department of Corrections has vacancies available in the program today and is committed to absorbing the costs of the new participants within their existing budget up to the capacity of the program space allotted at Louisiana State Penitentiary.
  • House Bill 518 by Representative Lopinto consolidates the pardon and parole boards into a single board. Louisiana had both a constitutionally authorized Board of Pardons and a statutorily created Board of Parole. The Board of Pardons had five members appointed by the governor, who made recommendations for the commutation of sentences and pardon for those convicted of offenses against the state. The Board of Parole had seven members appointed by the governor, who determined the time and conditions of release for incarcerated offenders.

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