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Parole Eligibility for 1st Offenders in Louisiana

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**Since the original bill, SB424, did not pass through the senate during the 2016 legislative session, a similar bill will be reintroduced in 2017's session. We still need support and signatures for those in favor of parole consideration for 1st time offenders.

The Department of Corrections’ operating budget for the fiscal year 2014-2015 was more than $826 million. With the state in a budget crisis and the DOC budget quickly approaching $1 billion, there is an obligation to taxpayers to find responsible ways to reduce the cost while still maintaining the department’s foremost goal of ensuring public safety. The passage of this bill will allow for the parole board, which now consists of professionals with criminal justice experience who are appointed by the current governor, to evaluate lifers for parole consideration, not immediate release.

Parole eligibility for this class of offenders will bring Louisiana in line with more than 90 percent of other states in the nation. There is only 1 other state (Pennsylvania) where all life sentences are meted out without parole; none which use it to the degree that Louisiana does.

The number of offenders sentenced to life every year varies, but over the last several years, approximately 75 to 95 offenders are sentenced to life without the possibility of parole annually. At this rate, in the next decade, the state will have to provide housing and financing for between 750 to 950 new lifers. It normally costs approximately $25,000 to $30,000 a year to house an offender, but with the median-age of the lifer population fast approaching 50 (The average age of lifers in 2014 was 45.6 years), the cost skyrockets to more than $55,000 annually for those over age 50.

In 2015, 13.4 percent of the total prison population in Louisiana were serving life sentences. Of those 4,870 lifers, 2,166 were first offenders, 2,957 were over the age of 45, and 1,816 had served 20 years or more. It is estimated that DOC spends more than $120 million annually just on lifers due to the costs associated with the aging lifer population.

“Criminal Menopause” is a term now being coined by corrections experts across the nation. This term is used to describe incarcerated men and women who have reached the age of 45 and have served a significant number of years; 20 or more. Statistics prove that the majority of these offenders no longer possess the criminal mentality that led to their incarceration. A DOC study, conducted in conjunction with Louisiana State University (LSU), showed that offenders who were convicted of second degree murder and served at least 20 years before being released, had less than a half of one percent (.005) recidivism rate. [For comparative results, consider a study conducted by Stanford University. From 1995-2010, California paroled 850 murderers, whose average age was 51, and only five returned to prison for committing another felony; none of which were for murder. This .006 recidivism rate corroborates the LSU study.]

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