BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana should shrink its prison population and costs by repealing minimum mandatory sentences for nonviolent crimes, said a study released Tuesday by several right-leaning policy organizations.
The groups suggest that Louisiana could maintain public safety while also reducing a per capita incarceration rate that is the highest in the nation, by making changes to the habitual offender law and locking up fewer people for nonviolent offenses.
The Reason Foundation, a libertarian organization based in California, made the suggestions along with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, a Louisiana-based conservative organization, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
"Harsh, unfair sentences are putting too many Louisianans in jail for far too long, and at a terrible cost to taxpayers and society," Julian Morris, vice president of Reason Foundation and co-author of the study, said in a statement.
Nonviolent offenders account for the majority of the state's inmates, the report says.
By shrinking its prison population, the study says Louisiana could invest more money in rehabilitation programs for those who remain in jail.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration said it has asked the state's sentencing commission to review the report's recommendations. Any changes would need approval from state lawmakers.
Jindal and lawmakers have made modest changes to the state's sentencing laws in recent years. For example, they've allowed certain nonviolent, non-sex offenders to be eligible for earlier release if they meet certain education and treatment benchmarks and created an early release for certain drug offenders who complete substance abuse treatment.
But those changes have chipped away only slightly at a prison population that ballooned from 21,000 in 1992 to more than 39,700 in 2011 after lawmakers passed a number of sentencing laws that disproportionately applied to nonviolent crimes, according to the Reason Foundation study. Prison costs grew by $315 million during the same period, the report says.