By Andrew Callaghan
Louisiana is the most incarcerated state in the most incarcerated country in the world. At 776 per 100,000 people incarcerated, Louisiana sits well ahead of the rest of the United States.
Under the leadership of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, the state legislature is trying to strip Louisiana of its dubious ranking. In his campaign for governor, Edwards promised that the state will lose that designation by 2019.
On Nov. 1, a package of state legislation went into effect, retroactively cutting mandatory minimum sentences and making more inmates eligible for parole or early release. The Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Package aims to reduce prison populations by 10 percent and save the state at least $262 million over the next decade.
However, getting over-sentenced offenders “out” is only half the battle — the next challenge is keeping them out. According to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, of the 15,000 offenders who are released from Louisiana prisons each year, 43 percent of them will return to prison within five years.
Marcus M. Kondkar, chairman of sociology at Loyola, studies Louisiana’s prison system at Louisiana State Penitentiary, better known as Angola.
“The majority of them have to depend on the kindness of friends and family,” Kondkar said. “You can see how they sometimes feel that they have no choice to go back to what they were doing to make a living, which very often involves criminal behavior.”
Using the money that will be saved through incarcerating fewer people, state officials plan to invest more money into expanding its reentry programs. However, due to the state’s current debt — which exceeds $32 billion — these funds won’t be available for investment until late 2018.
“The folks getting released right now, they’re on their own,” Kondkar said.
This vow to strengthen reentry programs comes in the wake of the success of a program called Reentry Court, which was spearheaded by Orleans Parish Criminal District Court judges Arthur Hunter and Laurie White. The Reentry Court sends offenders through a small-scale reentry program at Angola.
Of the 131 ex-convicts who have graduated from the program since 2010, only 13 percent of them have returned to prison within three years.