BATON ROUGE, La (BRPROUD) — Governor John Bel Edwards toured the state of Louisiana to celebrate five years since lawmakers passed a criminal justice reform package.
The package is made up of ten bills aimed toward steering less serious offenders away from prison and giving them access to assistance programs after they’re released.
Edwards participated in a roundtable event at the LSU Law Center and said the focus of Thursday’s discussion was re-entry because successful transitions increase public safety.
“We were locking up more non-violent offenders and keeping them in prison longer than any other state,” Edwards said.
After data showed that Louisiana had some of the highest incarceration rates in the country, the program was created to focus less serious offenders away from prison and give them access to post-release assistance programs, including the Parole Project.
“It’s given them hope when they’ve lost it, and they are depending on us as their voices to be able to help them,” Parole Project Special Projects Manager Christi Cheramie.
Cheramie is one of many success stories. She was released early after serving 25 years behind bars. She was a client at the Parole Project, and now she works there, giving back to those that were in her shoes.
“We are stepping foot on that compound, it’s like there is such a light and I see so much hope that was never there before,” Cheramie said.
The Governor said the state has saved more than $150 million and seventy percent of that has been reinvested. But there is more work to be done.
“But despite the progress, we still are the number one incarcerator in the nation,” Edwards said.
Much of that has to do with the increase in violent crime, a trend that is sweeping the nation. But some lawmakers are criticizing the outcomes of the reform.
Representative Alan Seabaugh is proposing legislation to study the issue, and determine if any of the reforms should be changed.