Facts and Policy Reforms for Louisiana
Like most states, Louisiana’s prison population has exploded in recent decades, growing more than fourfold between 1980 and 2016 and reaching 35,001 people in 2017.
As of 2016, Louisiana imprisoned people at a higher per capita rate than any other state, although the latest data shows its rate recently fell to second worst in the nation.
Non-violent offenses dominate new prison admissions in Louisiana. More than 1 in 3 people admitted to prison in 2016 were convicted of a property offense, and thirty percent of all admissions were because of drug offenses. Violations of probation, parole, and other community supervision programs also drive incarceration in the state – more than half of 2016 admissions were for revocations from those programs, and nearly 1 in 5 was for a technical violation like missing a curfew or failing to report for an office visit.
Unsurprisingly, Louisiana’s mass incarceration crisis has had an enormous impact on people of color, especially Black people. As of 2014, the Black per capita imprisonment rate in Louisiana was the 13th highest in the country. Though they account for just 33 percent of the state population, Black people made up 66 percent of the Louisiana prison population in 2017. Ending mass incarceration is a critical — although insufficient — step towards addressing racial disparities in Louisiana’s criminal justice system as well as in its broader society.
Women are also being sent to prison in Louisiana at alarming rates. Between 1980 and 2016, the number of women in the prison population grew more than six fold, far outpacing the growth in the number of imprisoned men over the same time period.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Louisiana can dramatically reduce its prison population by implementing just a few sensible reforms:
- Extending parole eligibility to longest-serving people in prison.
- Reducing reliance on wealth-based and pretrial detention.
- Reclassifying drug and minor property offenses as misdemeanors rather than felonies.
- Promoting alternatives to incarceration like substance abuse treatment, mental health care, and other programs.
- Giving judges the ability to use options other than incarceration rather than being mandated by the Legislature to send people to prison for certain crimes.
- Creating an oversight body for its prosecutors’ offices to increase transparency and accountability.
- Reforming or eliminating Louisiana’s severe habitual sentencing enhancement, which has resulted in extreme sentences for thousands of people in Louisiana prisons.
- Expanding opportunities for people to earn credits against their prison sentences through participation in educational, vocational, and other opportunities while in prison.
If Louisiana were to follow these and other reforms outlined in this Smart Justice 50-State Blueprint, it could have 16,624 fewer people in its prison system by 2025, saving over $800 million that could be invested in schools, services, and other resources that would strengthen communities.
For more information, along with detailed breakdowns of Louisiana’s prison population and the reforms needed to reduce it, click here.