We’ll confess that the recently-passed criminal justice reforms, which were part of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ agenda but enjoyed wide bipartisan support in the state legislature, were not all that high on my list of favorite policies. Certainly Louisiana leading the nation and the world with the largest per-capita prison population was a bad look for the state and finding ways to whittle that population down without adding to the state’s abysmally-high crime rate would be a salutary pursuit. But wholesale policy changes aimed at reducing Louisiana’s prison population such that it would be less than next-door Mississippi without regard to whether the crime rate was also declining – in other words, a willy-nilly mass release – wasn’t something we could support at The Hayride.
About 1,900 Louisiana prisoners could be released earlier than expected under a new state law, according to new data from the Department of Corrections (DOC). That’s up from the roughly 1,500 inmates originally estimated by the corrections secretary.
Those inmates will be eligible for release on Wednesday, November 1.
A spokesman for DOC says staff has been going through databases every day to determine which inmates are eligible for early release. As a result, he says hundreds have been added to the list. Most of the inmates were convicted in just a few parishes: 164 in Caddo, 139 in Orleans, and 139 in Jefferson.
In the capital region, East Baton Rouge Parish leads the pack with 128 convictions. Seventy-six were convicted in Livingston and 23 were convicted in Ascension.
The early release is part of criminal justice reforms passed by the state legislature earlier this year, shortening sentences for those described as “non-violent.” Those bills found widespread and bipartisan support.
Looking through the criminal histories of those in EBR Parish, many were put behind bars for drug offenses and theft-related crimes. In a few cases, assistant district attorneys chose to not pursue charges of battery or possession of a firearm.
Corrections Sec. Jimmy LeBlanc says the public should not be concerned. “Could something happen? Certainly. Something can happen. I pray it doesn’t, but it was probably going to happen anyway,” he said.
The real concern is that we’re letting violent drug dealers who’ve destroyed the communities they’ve preyed on back into those communities. Sure, what they may have been in jail for was something “not-violent” like drug possession – but those are in lots of cases plea deals. The cops and prosecutors were pretty sure they were guilty of a lot worse, but with massive caseloads and witnesses scared stiff to testify, it was easier to just get these people off the streets for as long as possible on more minor charges with agreements to serve time and then move on to the next scumbag.
Except now we’re letting these people out.
Yes, it’s a bad look that Louisiana has so many people in jail. But Louisiana has had the nation’s highest murder rate for 28 years. That’s an indication Louisiana has a large population of people who ought to be in jail based on how they behave. Louisiana’s cities, particularly the poorer parts of Louisiana’s cities, are teeming hives of social pathology and criminal culture. We clearly don’t have a good solution for how to break those patterns, and it’s fair to note that putting everybody in jail isn’t all that effective either.
But letting criminals out of jail might not be an improvement. Particularly given the exploding violent crime already going on in the state’s major cities. Baton Rouge is now in record territory with respect to its 2017 murder count, and things have gotten so bad in New Orleans that it’s not even safe to drive on the interstate without catching a stray bullet. Fresh deposits from the prisons would seem to add to that problem rather than take away from it.
It’s a matter of time before one of these newly-released inmates commits a major felony, or more specifically a murder. One wonders if the public will be satisfied with a mass release of criminals from the jails then.