Gov. John Bel Edwards is establishing a new panel that will oversee the implementation of laws that aim to overhaul the state's criminal justice system while shrinking the size of Louisiana's prison population.
“Now that Louisiana has started the critical and important process of reforming our criminal justice system to better protect public safety, hold offenders accountable, control costs and reinvest those savings to further improve the system, I want to make certain that the people of our state are served in the best way possible and that they have the utmost confidence in the work taking place,” Edwards said in a statement Thursday announcing his executive order to create an 11-person oversight council. “We have an extraordinary opportunity, and this council will help ensure we are on the right path to achieving our goals and the reforms are producing the maximum results.”
The state Legislature earlier this year approved the bipartisan package of 10 laws. Changes include reduced mandatory minimum sentences and early parole eligibility for some inmates, as well as expanded programs to help newly-released inmates acclimate when they return to their communities.
The sweeping overhaul is expected to decrease the state's prison population, currently the highest per capita in the country, by 10 percent in a decade. The state estimates it will save about $262 million through the reduction, 70 percent of which will be reinvested in programs to rehabilitate offenders and support victims.
Edwards said that the newly-formed council will be bipartisan and will include the secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections. Members other than current Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc have not been named but will be appointed by the governor, will be "inter-branch and bipartisan" and will include "representatives of criminal justice agencies and legislators," per the executive order. The governor's office said he expects to release a list of names next week and the council will have its first meeting in January.
Edwards has faced criticism in recent weeks as the first large-scale early release of inmates rolled out.
U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-Madisonville, released a video last month questioning the oversight of the overhaul and overall competency of the Department of Corrections, which he deemed "utterly unable to administer" the early release of prisoners.
"Regardless of how you feel about the act, and Louisianans have mixed feelings about it, I think it's important to tell the other side of the story," Kennedy said in the nearly eight-minute video. "There are some things that money can't buy and one of them is public safety."
Kennedy's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the newly-formed council.
Among its duties, the panel has been directed to track the implementation of policy changes linked to the new criminal justice laws, promote communication across agencies, make recommendations on prison reductions and reinvestment programs.
The council will submit a report to the governor each year, starting December 31, 2018, outlining the review of the Justice Reinvestment Implementation plan created by LDOC.