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Elain Ellerbe | December 13, 2017
The recent implementation of one of Louisiana’s Justice Reinvestment reform measures providing for nominal early releases for non-violent offenders was initially met with much criticism and political posturing. However, as was highlighted in a recent WAFB/CBS-Channel 9 story, it would seem the concerns voiced by a number of sheriffs and state elected officials was much ado about nothing. While there have been a few individuals out of the 2,000 offenders released on the November 1 date that have quickly recidivated, four of those were simply guilty of not reporting to their parole officer. As Pete Fremin, director of probation and parole states, “That number is fewer than we have with our regular releases each month”. However, what is call for concern is that one offender did attempt an armed robbery. As I read the news account of this individual, it is obvious to me from my years of working directly with incarcerated populations, that this young man needs more cognitive behavior therapy programming to address his criminogenic and institutionalized thinking. The degree to which Louisiana’s prison population has access to reentry life skills and therapy-based programming has been and continues to be a legitimate concern. The Department of Corrections is working to improve and expand the programming in its state prisons as well as to establish best practices in local jails, which was a focus of the justice reinvestment legislation. The savings realized is to be put back into the very programs that are shown to change criminogenic behavior and lower recidivism. As WAFB reported in its coverage, the department has been able to add 23 new Probation and Parole officers who have received specialized reentry training to work more efficiently and with a mindset geared towards rehabilitation. The new officers featured in the WAFB story show a commitment to help the individuals on their caseload, rather than just being punitive.
During a recent conference call I had with Secretary LeBlanc relating to reentry initiatives in the state, he noted that the present prison population is at a low of 33,600 and has not been this low since 1999. Some critics of the justice reinvestment reforms have pointed to the decrease in the prison population as being too fast and bad for public safety. However that has not been the case, and one month in to the reform implementation is not indicative of a trend. The absence of any major problems to this point is encouraging and with the new and improved parole officers being added to the ranks, I think the future for criminal justice in Louisiana is very promising.