New legislation passed in Louisiana led to 1,900 prisoners being released in early November. The aim of the legislation is to lower the state’s incarceration rate — the highest in the country — and to give nonviolent prisoners a new chance at life on the outside, but not everyone is happy with this new development. Winn Parish Sheriff Cranford Jordan says that a lack of prisoner education programs in Louisiana means the sudden influx of former inmates into society will create a huge burden on the system.
The new legislation sees nonviolent offenders eligible for release once they have served 35 percent of their sentence. Upon release they will be monitored. But unlike other states, such as Texas, Louisiana does not have a pre-release rehabilitation process in place.
Looking to Texas, Jordan says, “Prior to releasing the inmates [Texas] had programs in place to train and to assist them. I don’t see any of those programs in Louisiana. [The legislators] are just in a hurry and a rush to get [our prisoners] out. It’s going to add an additional burden to law enforcement, releasing so many in such short a time. It’s going to put a strain on local law enforcement to do our job properly.”
While the reformed legislation aims to reduce the state’s prison population by 10 percent over the next 10 years, most of the inmates being released are entering society with little education and very few job skills. This could easily result in a high likelihood of recidivism.
Walt Leger is a Democrat and sponsor of the new legislation. The Louisiana state representative noted the state has “an incredibly high recidivism rate. One of the biggest challenges we have is successful re-entry.”
Louisiana’s incarceration numbers are shocking. According to a 2009 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 1 in 26 adults in the state are incarcerated. This is higher than the national average of 1 in 31. As of 2013, the state was also the fifth highest for its violent crime rate and the third highest for its poverty rate. Violent crimes and poverty have been linked to a lack of education – and it shows in the statistics. Louisiana is also ranked as the fourth lowest state for adults obtaining a high school diploma. These are underlying reasons for the highest incarceration rate in America.
With statistics like that, it is easy to see why a sudden influx of offenders, nonviolent or not, is a primary concern for law enforcement, especially when those offenders have not had access to rehabilitation and education programs.
However, there may be a silver lining down the road. The new legislation also calls for programs to help newly released inmates to stay out of jail, and the need for upgraded resources in the state’s prisons has also been acknowledged. The early release program will save Louisiana $262 million over the next 10 years, and 70 percent of those savings is earmarked for prisoner training and rehabilitation programs.
While the initial solution of a mass release of prisoners is not ideal, it’s clear solutions must be found to curb the burgeoning prisoner population in Louisiana. Time will tell if the situation is tough on the streets of Louisiana for a while, but looking to the long-term benefits of the money freed up for prisoner education and re-entry, the future looks a tiny bit brighter in this struggling state.
Christopher Zoukis is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons, (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014). He regularly contributes to The Huffington Post, New York Daily News, and Prison Legal News. He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com and Prisonerresource.com.