Sentencing change bills headed to Jindal's desk

CALCASIEU PARISH, LA (KPLC) - Big changes could be coming to sentencing laws for convicted felons in Louisiana due to three bills.

The three measures that will be arriving in Governor Jindal's office could potentially make a large difference in the amount of time served by convicted felons, meaning they could be back on the streets sooner than you think.

The first, House Bill 1026, would allow those in jail for non-violent, non-sex crimes for the second time to apply for parole after serving only a third of their sentence.

"I think the key is that they're applying for parole," said defense attorney Todd Clemons. "It's still up to the parole board if they deem them eligible for release. It's my understand that in the state of Louisiana we incarcerate the largest percentage of our citizens of any state in the country.'

The second bill, number 228, would let repeat offenders get sentence reductions by enrolling in rehab, education or treatment programs and job training classes. But Clemons says habitual offenders are usually serving a severe sentence.

"At some point the vast majority of prisoners will return to our communities," said Clemons. "So our goal as a society should be to punish them but also to bring them back as better people than they were when they left."

The third, House Bill 1068, would give judges, with consent from district attorneys, the right to sentence criminals to a prison term below the minimum required. Both Clemons and District Attorney John DeRosier support this change.

"I just think this is another tool in the judge's toolbox to impose sentences that are accurate and that are designed to fit the individual that's standing before the judge," said Clemons.

"The cost to the Louisiana penal system is extremely high and the state is doing everything in its power to try and reduce that number, but at the same time maintain the peace and integrity of the criminal justice system," said DeRosier.

DeRosier stresses that protection of the community is their number one priority. These bills do not apply to sex-related crimes or violence. He also says bill 1068 will help the community.

"It's beneficial to the community in the sense that it will save the state money, which of course the community pays for," said DeRosier.

All three bills passed through the senate without amendments.

They just await the governor's signature before being made official law.

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