Dan Claitor

State Sen. Dan Claitor addresses the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge on Jan. 30, 2019.

Most supporters of the 2017 bipartisan legislation meant to reduce Louisiana’s prison population like to tout “criminal justice reform.” State Sen. Dan Claitor, a Baton Rouge Republican and former prosecutor, prefers to talk about “criminal justice reinvestment.”

“You check your portfolio, and you see how your portfolio is performing, and if you have to adjust it and reinvest in other things, you do that,” Claitor said while addressing this week’s meeting of the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge.

Before 2017, Louisiana led the world in per capita prison population, Claitor said. That gets expensive, since housing someone at a state prison like Angola costs $60 a day, while a stay at a local sheriff-run facility costs $30 a day, he said.

When the state doesn’t have room, it pays local sheriffs to house its prisoners, creating a local “dependency” on state dollars, Claitor said.

But while no one wants Louisiana to lead the world in incarceration, politicians don’t want to be accused of being soft on crime. When lawmakers discussed criminal punishment changes – such as earlier parole eligibility and more credit for “good time” – those guilty of violent crimes and sex offenses were not included in the conversation, Claitor said.

State officials predicted a reduction in the prison and community supervision populations of 10 and 12 percent, respectively, over 10 years while saving $262 million. Officials planned to reinvest an estimated $184 million of the savings in local programs to reduce recidivism and provide services for crime victims, while the rest would go to the state’s general fund.

Louisiana’s prison population is down almost 10 percent since the criminal justice package was passed and 20 percent from its peak in 2012, Claitor said. Last year, the state saved about $12.2 million and is on track to save about $15.2 million this fiscal year, officials say.

“That’s real money,” Claitor said.

Some of the specific projects slated to benefit from criminal justice savings, as discussed at the most recent meeting of the Louisiana Legislature’s Justice Reinvestment Implementation Oversight Council, include:

  • A planned “family justice center” in the Baton Rouge area serving victims of domestic violence is receiving about $750,000.
  • The Crime Victims Reparations Board is getting $300,000, which will be used to pay service providers who tend to victims.
  • The Attorney General’s child predator task force will get $100,000 to upgrade technology used to catch internet predators.
  • About $550,000 for an online interface allowing electronic registration for the crime victim notification service. The service lets victims know, for example, when the offender in their case is charged or released from custody.

Staff Reporter

David Jacobs is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.