BATON ROUGE, La. — The Louisiana House has passed a bill reducing the time violent prisoners are required to serve before they become eligible for parole. Louisiana is currently leading the nation in incarceration rates, and will devote the money saved through the new bill to various reintegration and rehabilitation programs.
Should the bill, HB 1255, also pass in the state Senate, it would allow violent offenders to become eligible for parole after serving just 75 percent of their original sentence. The current law mandates offenders complete 85 percent before receiving eligiblity.
The new bill also eases conditions under which inmates can be approved for parole by moving away from the current law, which requires a unanimous vote. Instead, violent offenders who have completed reentry preparation programs, and met other conditions, will be allowed to transition into parole should they receive a majority vote.
Additionally, the bill allows for the creation of the “Programs to Reduce Recidivism Fund.” If approved, that fund would support parole and probation reentry programs, and provide funding for local rehabilitation initiatives.
Rep. Katrina Jackson, a Monroe Democrat, is sponsoring the bill, which was co-authored by Rep. Barbara Norton (D-Shreveport), Rep. Roy Burrell (D-Shreveport), Rep. Austin Badon (D-New Orleans) and Rep. Dalton Honore (D-Baton Rouge). Though the bill was primarily a Democratic effort, it passed in the House by a 57-26 margin, an now heads to the Louisiana Senate.
According to Nola.com, Jackson was asked during debate of the bill if she was willing to amend it to instead apply to nonviolent offenders. Jackson responded that such a move would defeat the purpose of the bill. Jackson was also quoted by Nola.com as remarking that HB 1255 is “aimed at cleaning up the system and making sure we spend our dollars on education and health care and those things our constituents sent us here to do.”
Statistics published by the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections show the state housed nearly 19,000 adult offenders on January 1, 2014, and an additional 19,000 in local jail facilities. The Division of Probation and Parole currently has twenty-one offices located throughout the state, and employs 511 officers to supervise more than 70,000 probationers and parolees, 99% which are felons. Approximately 2,700 of those 70,000 offenders are also convicted sex offenders, many of whom require specialized supervision and treatment. According to the division, the average caseload per officer is 137 offenders, though some officers may carry 160 cases or more.