1400 inmates released across Louisiana

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MONROE, La. (KNOE) - On November 1st, 1400 inmates hit the streets in Louisiana after a new state law speeds up how fast inmates can earn parole. Now, some inmates can earn time off for good behavior after serving 35 percent of their sentence, down from 40 percent before the bill became law.

"We are concerned, yes we are. We are concerned," Ouachita Parish Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Johnson says.

But folks with the Department of Corrections say they're not just letting everyone free. These are people who were going to get out in a few weeks anyway.

"I think there's some confusion that, 'Oh, we're just letting people go,'" DOC's Deputy Assistant Secretary Natalie LaBorde says. "For someone serving a 10-year sentence, it's only cutting sentences by 60-90 days."

But it's still something Johnson says the Ouachita Parish District Attorney's office hasn't seen before.

"It's new," Johnson says. "We haven't seen how it works. We haven't seen it worked out in reality, in real life, so we're concerned about that."

The new law doesn't scare everyone, though. Some state lawmakers, like Representative Katrina Jackson, say the state needs to shift its focus on rehabilitation.

"For a first-time, second-time non-violent offender, incarceration is not the goal," Jackson says. "Rehabilitation is [the goal]."

The law is designed to save the state millions of dollars. Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the country. Taxpayers pay nearly $80 per day to house an inmate. The bill, passed in June, claims to cut the prison population by 10% while saving the state and taxpayers $262 million over the next decade.

But Jackson says it's more than just putting money in the state's pocket.

"It's not about cutting the budget or making sure we're financially protected," Jackson says. "But it was about rehabilitation and making sure we're giving people a second chance who deserved a second chance."

Who gets out

To whom is the state giving a second chance?

To qualify for parole, the inmates must be non-violent, nor sex offenders. They also had to stay out of trouble to earn enough "good time" served. Of the 62 inmates released in Northeast Louisiana, 34 have been convicted of some drug use. Fifteen inmates have a prior theft or burglary conviction. And 40 of 62 inmates have been convicted of more than one crime. That's why the DA's office is so concerned.

"They're doing less time before they're being released," Johnson says. "So the question is – is he ready? Is he going to re-offend?"

It's a problem LaBorde says is inevitable, but one she says the Department of Corrections is ready for.

"Our [Louisiana's] recidivism rate is in the 40 percent, and it's not going to go down immediately," LaBorde says. "So there will be some that re-offend. But ten years ago, there was no re-entry training on the local level."

But now, Northeast Louisiana has eight transitional work programs. And part of the $262 million saved will go to improving their quality. So it seems now more than ever, the state is ready to make rehabilitation a real goal.