Gov. Edwards, SPLC praise state’s criminal justice reform effort

BATON ROUGE – Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards and the Southern Poverty Law Center are applauding the release of non-violent offenders as new criminal justice reforms take effect today.

The reforms were passed into law earlier this year as part of a comprehensive package of reforms designed to save more than $250 million statewide.

Under the new guidelines, inmates who have been convicted of nonviolent, non-sex related offenses will be released from prison an average of 60 to 90 days earlier in an effort to reduce the state’s overburdened prison population.

“Louisiana’s label as having the highest incarceration rate in the nation may be part of our past, but it will not be a part of our future,” Edwards said. “For more than a year, stakeholders from every walk of life in Louisiana publicly met to thoroughly review our criminal justice system. Following a model set forth by other Southern, conservative states, their goal was to make Louisiana a safer place for our children while being smarter on crime than we have been in the past. Today, we begin the implementing the reforms that a powerful, bipartisan coalition of legislators passed this year. Along the way, we will, undoubtedly, find areas where we can improve these changes, but our goal remains the same – increase public safety, reduce over-incarceration for nonviolent offenses, and make smarter investments in alternatives to incarceration.”

The reforms are expected to save the state $262 million, according to Edwards, and $180 million is earmarked for reinvestment into programs designed to reduce recidivism rates.

In a separate statement, Southern Poverty Law Center deputy legal director Lisa Graybill praised the state’s criminal justice reinvestment efforts.

“Today, families around Louisiana are being reunited as some people incarcerated for nonviolent, non-sex-related offenses are released due to bipartisan criminal justice reforms that state lawmakers adopted earlier this year,” Graybill said. “Their releases – coming on average eight weeks earlier than under previous policies – mark the beginning of a historic process that will allow Louisiana to save $262 million over the next 10 years by reducing its prison population. Our elected officials are wisely choosing to reinvest 70 percent of these savings into promoting public safety by implementing evidence-based programs for prison alternatives, reentry services and victim support.”

Lowering recidivism rates will help keep Louisiana families together and stabilize communities across the state, Graybill said.

“Today signifies positive change in the incarceration capital of the world, where we have chosen to prioritize rehabilitating people over warehousing them,” she said. “Today is a big step, but our work is not done. We must support our neighbors’ return home today by building them up and helping them successfully make the transition, and we must continue to push for even bolder changes to ensure that our criminal justice system is fair and just for all Louisianans.”