Aug 20, 2013 7:25 PM by Akeam Ashford

Eric Holder Proposes Changes to Criminal Justice System

Last week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder proposed a new way to deal with overcrowded prisons, calling for a reduction in harsh sentences for certain non-violent drug related crimes.

Holder's proposal addresses federal prisoners, but what about Louisiana's local and state drug cases?

According to statistics, Louisiana ranks first in incarceration rates, not only in the U.S., but in the entire world. So what are local officials doing to change the state's crowded prison population?

District Attorney Mike Harson says his office allows for leeway when prosecuting non-violent criminals.

"The law actually allows probation on a second offense and, in some cases, on a third offense," says Harson. "The legislature has tried to address the overcrowded population by giving people the opportunity for additional probation that they didn't have 30 years ago."

According to the Louisiana Department of Corrections, in December 2012 there were more than 40,000 drug offenders imprisoned in Louisiana.

Capt. Kip Judice of the Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office agrees that there needs to be something done about the overcrowded prisons.

"At some point the state of Louisiana and every entity within the criminal justice system has to think, 'Are we doing all we can do? Is the public getting the best bang for that dollar?'" says Judice.

Five years ago, Judice says the LPSO began using a common-sense approach to non-violent criminals, looking at previous convictions and charges.

"It's real easy for us to sit here and say, 'Lock them up and throw the key away,' but when you start talking to that specific inmate's mom and dad, then he's a good boy," says Judice.

Holder says the U.S. population has increased by about one-third since 1980, but the federal prison population has grown by 800%.

In Louisiana, the overall population has grown just 10 percent since 1980, but the inmate population has jumped 450 percent.

Lafayette's inmate population is up 660 percent during the same time period.



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