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Do We Need Sentencing Reform in Louisiana?

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Jail CellDid you know that 868 of every 100, 000 citizens in the state of Louisiana is in prison?  Even more surprising than that: more than 44 percent of those inmates are serving sentences for nonviolent crimes, compared to only 41 percent serving sentences for violent crime.

Why is this so?  Since the 1970s, Louisiana has had some of the harshest mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenses in the country.  An example of this would be offenders possessing a small amount of marijuana being sentenced to four years in prison, minimum.

A significant number of crimes that carry mandatory minimum prison sentences are nonviolent in nature, such a multiple DWI offenses.  In Louisiana, on a third DWI offense, you can spend up to five years in jail.

Conversely, numerous violent crimes do not carry mandatory minimum sentences at all.  This means that people who have committed a nonviolent crime could spend the same amount of time in jail as a person guilty of manslaughter.

Louisiana has one of the highest violent crime rates in the country, consistently ranking higher than neighboring states.

The prison population in Louisiana has nearly doubled in the past 20 years:  from 21,000 in 1992 to more than 40,000 in 2012.  That was the catalyst for an increase of $315 million in corrections expenditures for the state.

Scaling back mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent crimes has proven successful for other states.  In Rhode Island, after repealing mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, prison population was reduced by more than 9 percent in one year and the state’s violent crime rate declined.

There are several recommendations that have been suggested for sentence reform in Louisiana, the first being the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences for low-level, non-violent offenses.

As DWI defense attorneys, we work to do everything possible to reduce the punishment for someone who has been charged with a DWI in Louisiana.  Time in jail can have a serious effect on someone’s life, and multiple DWI offenses aren’t necessarily crimes that deserve time behind bars.

What do you think about sentence reform in Louisiana for nonviolent crimes?  Do you think we need it?

This article’s image comes courtesy of Flickr contributor, Michael Coglan

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About Jim Harmon

Jim Harmon is a founding member of Harmon, Smith and Vourvoulias L.L.C. Jim practices primarily in the areas of personal injury litigation, workers' compensation, and DUI defense.Jim Harmon's Google+ Profile

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