Louisiana releases more than 1,900 inmates

BATON ROUGE, La. (LOCAL 33) (FOX 44) - The doors to state and parish prisons were busy Wednesday, as 1,927 inmates walked from their cells.

The official release time was 12:01 a.m., though prisoners stayed throughout the day. They waited for friends, families or buses to arrive, before facing new challenges tied to life outside prison walls.

"We want to make sure we get those guys resources," said state Rep. Tanner Magee, who co-sponsored numerous criminal justice reform bills in the legislature this past spring. "We want to make sure we provide public safety officers the resources to make sure they don't commit and re-offend."

Within 48 hours of release, inmates must register with their pre-assigned parole officers, tasked with aiding their returns to society.

"Finding a job, getting them ready for employment is tough on them," said Pete Fremin, who supervises the state's roster of approximately 600 probation and parole officers. "If they have a substance abuse problem, we have to help them."

Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc said probation and parole officers have already met with most of the newly released prisoners before their departures, adding the department is already providing them with prerelease services.

"One of the keys for [the former inmates] is to realize what they've done wrong and realize they need help," Fremin said.

Wednesday's releases will leave each officer with an average of three additional cases. Corrections officers have been facing higher workloads, but claim they can handle the changes.

Louisiana currently spends about $700 million on correctional costs each year. Under the new bundle of 10 laws, the state will reinvest about $184 million of the estimated $262 million in savings over the next decade into services for crime victims and programs designed to keep people from returning to prison. These initiatives, legislators say, will ease caseloads for officers.

"We're hopeful that with the savings projected over the course of the next decade, that some of that money will be put into probation and parole," said state Rep. Walt Leger, a New Orleans Democrat.

The measures could slice Louisiana's prison population by 10 percent come 2026, while ending its status as the state with the highest incarceration rate by 2018. Those projections are from the office of Gov. John Bel Edwards, who signed the bipartisan legislation into law this past spring.

Of the inmates slated for releases Wednesday, 164 have been serving for crimes committed in Caddo Parish. Analysis from BRProud.com estimates that 139 derive from Orleans and Jefferson parishes, respectively.

In the capital area, 128 releases derive from East Baton Rouge, 76 from Livingston and 23 in Ascension parishes.

The total number of November releases is more than double the monthly average statewide. Louisiana has typically released roughly 1,500 inmates per month. Corrections officials expect that tally to fall closer to average in subsequent months.

Probation and parole officers add their work will, in many ways, be only as effective as the willingness of former inmates to build lives away from crime.

"They need to call us when they've got a problem," said Fremin, "because once you commit a new crime, I can't help you anymore."

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