How will Louisiana spend the money saved from the criminal justice overhaul?
Advocates for Louisiana’s proposed criminal justice overhaul have provided a rough outline of how the state would divvy up the money it expects to save should the legislative package that changes sentencing, parole and probation procedures pass. Speaker Pro Tempore Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, is carrying House Bill 489 that gives guidelines about where the money that’s saved could go for the next 10 years. The majority of it — over two-thirds — would be used for crime prevention, victim recovery, prison alternatives and rehabilitation programs. Leger’s approach — based on states that have done similar criminal justice overhauls — appears to be popular with other lawmakers. The House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice approved the legislation that included his planWednesday (May 17). It will be considered by the full House next.
“Maintaining a high level and commitment to reinvestment is going to drive the change that we are seeking,” Leger said.
If enacted, the criminal justice changes are estimated to free up $262 million before 2027 that would have otherwise gone to prisons and local jails. Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate of anywhere in the world. This is partially because the state’s recidivism rate is high. One in three people in Louisiana released from prison return to lock-up within three years. Some of the reinvestment pushed in Leger’s legislation is supposed to stop people from returning to jail or prison. Louisiana intends to spend the estimated $262 million saved by the criminal justice changes, according to House Bill 489, in the following ways over the next decade:
- 30 percent (estimated to be $78 million) can go to any purpose
- 20 percent (estimated to be $52 million) would go toward juvenile justice initiatives and programs
- 25 percent (estimated to be $66 million) toward re-entry services, community supervision, educational and vocational programming, transitional work programs, contracts with parish jails and other local facilities that house state inmates
- 15 percent (estimated to be $39 million) for incentive grants to parishes, judicial districts, and nonprofit community partner organizations to expand evidence-backed prison alternatives and reduce admissions to the state prison system
- 10 percent (estimated to be $26 million) to award competitive grants for victim services, including but not limited to victim safety assessments and safety planning, trauma-informed treatment and services for victims and survivors, shelters and transitional housing for domestic violence victims and their children, batterers’ intervention programming, and victim-focused education and training for justice system professionals
Leger’s bill also requires certain types of data about who is in prison and what type of sentence they received to be tracked. This information will be needed to pinpoint how much money the sentencing and parole changes actually save Louisiana.
Funding from the criminal justice overhaul would start to be reinvested after June 30, 2018 — when the savings from the first year with the changes accrue. Leger said more of the estimated $184 million will be available in the out years, than in budget cycles coming up soon. Outside of the rough breakdown above, there hasn’t been much information about how the savings will be spent. The Department of Public Safety and Corrections will oversee how at least 35 percent of the money saved will be allocated. Gov. John Bel Edwards has also said local sheriffs will receive some compensation for state funding they might lose when the prison population decreases and fewer state inmates are housed in local jails. Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc also said he was interested in spending some of that $184 million on more re-entry centers — which help people leaving prison adjust successfully to life when they are released — and an expansion of substance abuse and mental health services.
“I’m in the middle right now of developing a five-year plan,” LeBlanc said.
The prison system is already providing some mental health and substance abuse treatment. It has a 48-bed unit for people with severe mental health problems — those who might have had a break with reality — at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel. Additionally, there are special dorms with 60 to 100 beds for people with less severe mental illness, according to LeBlanc.
A 600-bed facility for state prisoners with substance abuse problems has been set up in Bossier City. It has a waiting list, according to LeBlanc.
“The sheriffs can tell you that we are dealing with mental health at the local level too,” LeBlanc said. “That’s where we are missing the boat. We need to get to mental health at the local level.”
LeBlanc would also like to set up a “reception center” for inmates coming into prisons from five parishes — Orleans, Jefferson, East Baton Rouge, St. Tammany and Caddo — that would do a better job of assessing what services prisoners need while incarcerated.
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Julia O’Donoghue is a state politics reporter based in Baton Rouge. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @jsodonoghue. Please consider following us on Facebook at NOLA.com and NOLA.com-Baton Rouge.