Justice Reinvestment Initiative: Louisiana

project image Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections has provided technical assistance to the Louisiana Sentencing Commission since the summer of 2010, with support from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA). That support has been under the auspices of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI), a joint effort of Pew and BJA. Following Louisiana’s successful completion of Phase I JRI efforts, Vera is currently assisting Louisiana in its implementation of legislation passed in 2011 and 2012.

Louisiana was a natural candidate for JRI: from 1985 to 2010, Louisiana’s prison population grew by 267 percent, while corrections spending increased by 400 percent. In 2008, Louisiana had the highest incarceration rate in the United States, with one out of 55 adults in the state in jail or prison. The annual cost to incarcerate someone in Louisiana is $21,838. The upward trend in the prison and jail population and the concomitant rise in corrections spending have come at a time of unprecedented fiscal crisis in Louisiana.

Mindful of this, in 2009 Governor Bobby Jindal directed the Louisiana Sentencing Commission to review sentencing and corrections practices, with the aim of reducing prison overcrowding and thus state spending. The commission subsequently requested technical assistance from Vera and The Pew Charitable Trusts. The commission reflects a broad range of perspectives from throughout the criminal justice system, with members including the secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, legal academics, sheriffs, district attorneys, victim advocates, defense attorneys, members of the judiciary, and legislators.

In Phase I of this project, Vera and JFA Associates—a criminal justice research institute—assisted the commission in conducting an in-depth analysis of the state’s criminal justice data to determine the factors driving the Louisiana’s prison population and determining what evidence-based, approaches could be taken to safely address those. The data analysis revealed three primary drivers: non-violent, non-sex offenses accounted for over 60 percent of admissions; of the admissions to prison for revocations of probation or parole supervision, technical violations accounted for 42 percent; and the grant rate for parole had dropped by more than 56 percent from 2000 to 2009.

Based on these findings, Vera helped the commission develop a number of policy proposals to address these drivers. In 2011 and 2012, the Louisiana Legislature passed and Governor Jindal signed legislation that included: discretionary authority to waive some categories of minimum mandatory sentences; creation of a system of intermediate administrative sanctions for offenders on probation and parole who violate the conditions of their supervision; an increase in the amount “good time” and “earned time” credit that state prisoners can earn; a revision of parole eligibility, decreasing the amount of time some offenders must serve of their sentence in prison; expansion of the Orleans Parish Reentry Court program; a restructuring of the Board of Parole and Board of Probation; and creation of an online registry for providers of home incarceration and electronic monitoring.

Phase II supports the implementation of policies adopted in Phase I to assure effective planning and execution, achievement of projected outcomes, and the identification of costs savings for reinvestment. The commission established the JRI Oversight Committee to oversee implementation of Louisiana’s policies. Vera is providing technical assistance to the committee to develop an implementation plan and identify performance measures to track the impact. With assistance from Vera, the state will seek to secure funding from BJA for capacity-building projects that will enhance these efforts. For more information about this work in Louisiana, contact Sara Sullivan.