Louisiana hopes to reduce inmates returning to prison

Posted at 10:54 AM, Jan 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-03 11:54:14-05

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – Officials in Louisiana hope to reduce the number of inmates who return to prison after additional crimes by resuming a program that was successful over a decade-long period.

The Advocate reports that prison officials hope a renewed federal grant on recidivism and money saved by criminal justice reforms will allow them to build on the success from the last decade when former inmates returned to prison at decreasing rates.

State officials plan to bring back a program that focuses on inmates with both mental illness and substance abuse problems as they completed their sentences.

“We started actively cooperating in the community post-release to get them engaged; that had a significant effect,” Department of Corrections Assistant Secretary Rhett Covington said in an interview Wednesday. Covington said the department previously had not been involved with inmates after their release.

The revised Second Chance Act program will work with prisoners returning to the Baton Rouge and St. Tammany areas before and after their release.

The state’s recidivism rate among high-risk and high-need inmates who returned to prison within three years dropped 12 percent between 2004 and 2014, according to a national justice organization.

Those numbers do not include all inmates in the Louisiana prison system, corrections spokesman Ken Pastorick said.

In 2011 and 2014, Louisiana’s prison system received two $600,000 grants to work with inmates with mental illness and substance abuse disorders. The New Beginnings program increased peer mentorship, improved inmates’ access to local service providers and support from probation and parole officers.

The 400 inmates involved in the program made the New Beginnings program one of the productive re-entry initiatives that helped reduce recidivism, according to the report from The Council of State Governments Justice Center.

Covington said without help, inmates with co-occurring mental illnesses and substance addictions return to prison after release almost automatically.

The program did not win federal funding for two years.

State Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc said after this federal grant of $750,000 runs out, he hopes to continue the work through their own funding.