Legislation that could allow nonviolent felons to be released from prisons earlier was easily approved Monday by the House.
House Bill 416 by state Rep. Joseph Lopinto, R-Metairie, would apply to first- and second-offense nonviolent felons like drug dealers, but would not apply to murderers and sex offenders.
Lopinto said the proposal is about saving money and relieving crowded prisons. “They’re going to get out sooner or later,” he said.
“These are people that will hopefully not be coming back,” Lopinto said about the nonviolent offenders who are released sooner for good behavior.
Felons have to serve 33 percent of their sentences on first offenses and 50 percent on second offenses before becoming eligible for parole.
Lopinto’s legislation would only require inmates to serve 25 percent of their sentences on first offenses and 33 percent on second offenses to become eligible for parole.
Third-offense felons are not eligible for parole.
The House voted 79-7 to send the bill to the Senate for debate.
State Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, protested that Lopinto amended his bill so that the cost savings generated would remain within the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections.
Lopinto said he wanted to help the cash-strapped department fund its probation and parole programs.
The Jindal administration is proposing an increase in probation and parole fees. However, state Rep. Ernest Wooton, No Party-Belle Chasse, said the proposal is problematic because it requires the approval of two-thirds of the Louisiana House.
Abramson complained that he thought much of the purpose of the legislation was to help alleviate the state general fund’s financial burdens.
The legislation follows recommendations from the Louisiana Sentencing Commission, on which Lopinto sits.
A recent report by the nonprofit Pew Center on the States found that state corrections spending quadrupled nationwide over the past 20 years. The spending, which includes prison operations, is the second-fastest growing budget area behind Medicaid for states.
At the same time, the report noted, one in four prisoners returns to prison within three years of release.
The House also approved Lopinto’s House Bill 414. The legislation was amended to streamline the process for overseeing and calculating the formula for the amount of additional time that is subtracted from a prison sentence for good behavior.
The formula is known as “good time.”
But Lopinto amended a more controversial measure out of HB414 that would have allowed prisoners to collect “good time” more quickly.