At least two of the people who were released from prison early under Louisiana's criminal justice overhaul have been re-arrested and accused of murder, officials acknowledged on Thursday.
"I have to work on the future here and what we are trying to do to avoid those things from happening," Department of Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc said at a news conference marking one year since the state began its major undertaking aimed to improving its criminal justice system. "My heart goes out to the victims, and it's a major issue."
In both cases, offenders who had been in-and-out of prison on mostly drug-related charges were part of an initial wave of early releases in November. Each was arrested in June on suspicion of murder in separate cases — one in in Ouachita Parish and the other in Bossier Parish. Neither has been convicted.
One man was originally scheduled to be released in April, so he would have been out of prison even without the early release, officials noted. The other was not originally to be released until this October, meaning his arrest came months before he would have been released if not for the new initiative, Department of Corrections records show.
"Those are things that unfortunately happen," LeBlanc said.
Despite those two cases and several rearrests of released inmates for lesser offenses, state leaders say they believe that there are still successes to be seen in the effort, which was approved with bipartisan support from the Louisiana Legislature and the backing of Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Act 280 allows sentences to be shortened more rapidly for nonviolent, non-sex-crime offenders who receive credit for good behavior — slashing the mandatory time served from 40 percent of their original sentences to 35 percent. The first wave of nearly 2,000 early releases took place on Nov. 1, 2017.
In the months since, the state has saved $12.2 million on incarceration, and 70 percent of that money is going back into programs to reduce recidivism and support crime victims, DOC estimates.
The state has also shed its highest-in-the-world incarceration rate — handing that dubious distinction off to Oklahoma earlier this year.
"We need to continue to move forward," LeBlanc said. "Our state is going to be better for this."
A year since the state passed massive criminal justice reforms, much of the focus has been on Louisiana newly shedding its notorious title as …
But critics point to the two accused of murder and others who have ended up back behind bars after early release as possible indicators that the state should be cautious as it continues to shed inmates.
District attorneys — some of the most vocal skeptics of the criminal justice efforts — have been tracking the initial cohort of about 1,900 inmates that were released on Nov. 1, 2017 as part of the first wave of early releases through the new criminal justice overhaul.
Many were released 30 to 90 days ahead of schedule. Some who were "released" had outstanding warrants and were transferred to other jurisdictions, so they never technically made it out.
District attorneys throughout the state placed each into a system and have received notifications each time one is rebooked, East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore explained. Based on that, which doesn't account for those turned over to other jurisdictions or calculate for whether someone offends during the window between their early release and their original release date, Moore estimates that about 22 percent have shown up back in the system.
Louisiana officials on Thursday reported significant decreases in the state's prison population, prison admissions, and probation and parole c…
"We figured this is a group that could be followed — just to see how they do," he said.
The Department of Corrections disputes the estimation as over-inflated.
"I'm not sure where the DAs are getting their information from," LeBlanc said. "Our numbers are not anywhere close to what they are saying."
According to the Department of Corrections' figures, 120 of those released early are back behind bars because they violated the terms of parole or committed new crimes. About 70 percent of the offenders who are back in custody are there because of offenses committed after their original release dates, meaning they would have been out of prison either way.
Another 112 who were previously released are being detained while they await adjudication. DOC argues that until they are convicted, they should not be considered as part of the "recidivism" rate. But if all were convicted, the recidivism rate from the early release program would be about 11.8 percent, according to DOC's calculations.
According to DOC, two of the offenders are back behind bars have been accused of murder. (Moore's system puts the figure at five).
Richard McLendon, 54, who had previously served time for simple burglary and drug possession, was arrested in June for the murder of a Shreveport man. He's currently being held in Bossier Parish. He was released about a year ahead of his scheduled release date, according to Department of Corrections records.
After many years as the nation’s leading jailer, Louisiana has ceded that ignominious title to Oklahoma.
Paul Jackson, 35, was released on his drug-related sentence about five months ahead of his originally scheduled release date. He was back behind bars in June on charges of second degree murder and criminal conspiracy to commit murder.
"What we are doing today is going to take time," LeBlanc said. "Give this some time to work. It is going to work."
Moore said he agrees. He hopes to work to improve the release program to better prepare inmates for release and prevent them from returning to prison.
"We're trying to see if there is some way we can intervene and make a difference," Moore said. "We don't want them to be re-arrested."