Louisiana is no longer the world’s prison capital due to the 10 prison bills enacted last year that reduced its overall prison population by a significant 7.6 percent.

Not only are inmates with low-level convictions given a second chance, but more importantly, the criminal justice reform has enhanced public safety and saved $12.2 million of taxpayer money in the state.

The sentencing and correction enhancements started in 2015 with the establishment of the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task Force that aimed to improve public safety and reduce spending. The task force identified the causes behind the state’s high imprisonment.

Although Louisiana’s crime rates were equivalent to other states, the state was incarcerating people for nonviolent crimes at nearly three times the rates of those states. Louisiana inmates also faced longer prison terms and more restricted parole eligibility than those admitted five to ten years earlier. 

These and other faults are addressed in the comprehensive legislative prison reform signed into law last year. It was drafted by six Republicans, two Democrats, and one independent and passed with strong bipartisan majorities.

By prioritizing prison space for inmates that threaten public safety, the legislation left nearly all of the prison beds to those who committed violent crimes. 42 percent of those sent to prison for drug possession and 20 percent of the inmates locked up for nonviolent crimes were released.

The bill strengthens community supervision by expanding programs that lessen reoffending. Over $8 million of the public dollar savings collected are appointed for reinvestment in recidivism-reduction programs and support for the crime victims. The legislation eases prisoners’ reentry into society by promoting financial stability and long-term success. Eliminating barriers to reentry through the promotion of financial stability develops long-term success, avoiding the one-in-three recidivism rate within three years of release in the state that distinguished the former prison capital.

Although the reform package is still in its initial phase, the U.S. Department of Justice reported important advances in the penal system. Today, there are 712 inmates per 100,000 residents, compared with last year when there were 816 per 100,000. Now that Louisiana has decreased its prison population, Oklahoma owns the title of “prison capital” with 719 people behind bars of 100,000.

“Shedding that title is just the beginning,” Edwards said. “This is about making the people of Louisiana safer.”

It is necessary to continue advocating for criminal justice reform across the country. Louisiana’s measures on the penal system prove that the states’ law alternatives help regulate the size and cost of the prison systems while defending public safety.