One of the most attractive elements associated with a sweeping prison reform package making its way through the Louisiana Legislature is the promise of hundreds of millions of dollars in savings to the state over the next decade.
On Wednesday, New Orleans Rep. Walt Leger III, a Democrat who has been closely involved with the criminal justice overhaul, presented his plan to obligate the projected savings to sorely-needed public safety programs intended to reduce crime and assist victims.
A recently amended prison reform package, which spans 10 bills in the Louisiana Legislature that will relax sentencing and increase parole opportunities, is projected to reduce the state's prison population by 10 percent over the next 10 years. That reduction is expected to generate $262 million in savings to the state.
After weeks of debate over proposed overhauls to Louisiana's criminal justice system aimed a…
But rather than just let those dollars flow aimlessly back into the state general fund, Leger's House Bill 489 ties 70 percent of the savings – an estimated $184 million – back to public safety reinvestment.
Of those savings realized the dollars would be allocated in the following way:
- 30 percent would go to the Department of Public Safety and Corrections to be awarded in the form of local grants to parishes, courts, and nonprofits to expand "evidence-based" prison alternatives, such as, drug courts and other programs.
- 20 percent would go to the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement to award grants for victim services, including counseling programs, shelters and transitional housing for domestic violence victims and their children, batterers' intervention programming, and additional training for justice system professionals.
- The remainder goes to the Department of Public Safety and Corrections to distribute to the jails for programs for inmates to reduce recidivism. Programs could include education, transitional work programs, substance abuse treatment and mental health services.
By the second year, another 20 percent would be obligated to investments in the office of Juvenile Justice.
The bill was warmly received in the House criminal justice committee on Wednesday. It heads next to the full House for consideration.