Governor Bobby Jindal signed legislation today to create a more effective and efficient criminal justice system. The legislation -- HB 518 by Representative Joseph Lopinto -- was approved by the Sentencing Commission and is part of the Governor's 2012 legislative package.
HB 518 merges the Pardon and Parole Boards and their duties. This new law eliminates duplicative positions and salaries to create savings, and will allow the Department of Corrections to continue to pursue its re-entry programming and its work of reintegrating nonviolent offenders back into society.
Governor Jindal said, "Both the Pardon and Parole Boards perform essentially the same duties -- granting clemency to offenders -- and there is no need to have two boards performing the same services when a single entity can execute those duties at a cost savings to taxpayers."
This new law, in addition to other sentencing reforms enacted this year, will ensure that Louisiana's criminal justice system continues to focus resources on punishing violent criminals, rehabilitating non-violent offenders, and keeping Louisiana's citizens safe.
Additional sentencing reforms already signed into law by Governor Jindal this year include:
HB 521 by Representative Helena Moreno will expand the re-entry courts initiative into the 19th and 22nd judicial districts. Around 13,000 incarcerated offenders return to Louisiana communities each year, which highlights the need for effective re-entry programming. Re-entry courts are such an initiative that will enable non-violent, non-sex offense offenders to participate in rehabilitation and workforce development programs. Upon successful completion of the program, the offender is placed on intensive re-entry supervision by the court, which also assists offenders in finding employment. Expanding re-entry courts will reduce recidivism rates and allow Louisiana to prioritize critical resources on keeping high-risk offenders off the streets.
HB 512 by Representative Helena Moreno ensures the effective use of the administrative sanctions that were enacted last year and enables probation and parole officers to quickly punish offenders under their supervision for violations of the conditions of their probation. Specifically, this bill provides that the form used to record the offender's admission to the violation and the administrative sanction proceeding will be considered hearsay in any future proceeding. By allowing the offender to admit to the violation and consent to the imposed sanction, probation and parole officers are able to more quickly and efficiently administer sanctions without having to take the offender back before the courts or Parole Board.
HB 432 by Representative Joseph Lopinto repeals the costly and under-utilized risk review panels, an extra layer of bureaucracy in the clemency process. Louisiana's current risk-needs assessment tool and other efforts employed by the Department of Corrections to evaluate offenders prior to their pardon or parole hearings already provide the members of those boards with information to determine whether an offender should be paroled or pardoned, making the panels duplicative. Between 2001 and 2009, the risk review panels cost the department over $110,000 per year. By reducing this administrative burden, the department's resources can be concentrated on other more productive programs.
HB 1026 by Representative Joseph Lopinto allows second time non-violent, non-sex offense, non-habitual offenders who have proven to be model prisoners to become parole eligible after serving 33 percent of their sentences. This bill only grants the offender a hearing before the Parole Board, and does not guarantee they will be released from prison. Louisiana is unique in that it admits a larger proportion of drug and non-violent criminals to prison than the national average and the state sentences non-violent offenders to longer sentences than the rest of the country. These statistics demonstrate how the state's prison system has a disproportionately high percentage of low-risk, non-violent, non-sex offense offenders consuming resources that should be more effectively used to target high-risk criminals and fund rehabilitation priorities such as re-entry facilities and probation and parole supervision.
HB 1068 by Representative Joseph Lopinto increases prosecutorial discretion so that district attorneys can tailor appropriate punishments as necessitated by the circumstances of the crime for non-violent, non-sex offense offenders. This new law allows district attorneys to enter into plea agreements with defendants to specify that the defendant's sentence can be served with the benefit of parole, probation or suspension of sentence or have a reduced fine or term of confinement.
HB 994 by Representative Joseph Lopinto simplifies the calculation of diminution of sentence, or "good time," that non-violent, non-sex offense offenders can earn while they are in jail. Revising the calculation will allow all parties to know exactly when an offender could be released from jail. This law revises the calculation so that good time is earned at the rate of 1.5 days for every 1 day in jail. In 2010, prisoners convicted of non-violent offenses made up over 45 percent of the state's prison population. Over 70 percent of the prison admissions in calendar year 2009 were for drug or property offenses. This large number of non-violent offenders has resulted in a state prison system with a high percentage of potentially low-risk, non-violent, non-sex offense offenders who are now taking up bed space and consuming resources that should be used to target violent, high-risk criminals and fund other top priorities such as re-entry facilities and probation and parole supervision. This law will create savings that will allow the state to reinvest in top priorities such as re-entry programming and other programs aimed at reducing the recidivism rate.