Depending on to whom you talk, Louisiana is one week away from either starting a landmark criminal justice reform or putting the public at risk.

On Nov. 1, approximately 1,400 inmates will get out of Louisiana's prisons early -- including 159 at last count in a four-parish area of Northwest Louisiana.

The idea behind Louisiana's new Judicial Reinvestment laws is to reduce the state's highest-in-the-nation incarceration rate and save more than $260 million over the next 10 years. Supporters of the law say the savings can be used in treatment and probation programs to lower recidivism rates.

But not everyone is on board.

Few people are more outspoken about the issue than the district attorney in Calcasieu Parish in southwest Louisiana, where a parolee -- released early under the state's existing law -- is accused of killing a 10-year-old boy.

That victim is becoming a poster child for people who was to scale back early release of more inmates.

The accused, 51-year-old Felton Thompson, was convicted in 1992 of armed robbery and aggravated battery. Thompson was sentenced 99 years in prison but was parole last year after serving 24 years.

"And after he was paroled, he came to Calcasieu Parish and is responsible for a crime that resulted in the killing of a child," District Attorney John Derosier said. "It is the result of the concept of the creation of the justice reinvestment task force. The concept is this: the state of Louisiana can save money by housing many fewer prisoners."

"We should not be trying to empty the prisons simply to save money," he added.

Department of Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc said the Calcasieu murder should not taint an entire reform effort.

"They're using one incident to make it look like it's something it's not," LeBlanc said. "This case has nothing to do whatsoever with the releases on Nov. 1."

LeBlanc said the 1,400 offenders about to be released are nearing the end of their terms anyway. The large majority are serving sentences for non-violent crimes, officials said, although some have served previous sentences for violent crimes.

"We're fooling ourselves if we think another 60 days in a parish jail -- sitting there, doing nothing, maybe getting fed -- is going help this guy," LeBlanc said.

That's where people on both sides of the new laws disagree.

"My concern is that if the Department of Public Safety does not seriously vet and consider and study everybody that they're getting ready to release that we're gonna have more of these kind of individuals back on the street," Derossier said.

DOC officials said they are doing that. Every considered parolee is having his case scrutinized, LeBlanc said.

"The risk assessment determines the level of supervision, whether it's minimum, medium, or maximum supervision, to the point of electronic monitoring. And we will go to that extreme, if need be," he said

A review of 159 inmates scheduled to get out early in Caddo, Bossier, Webster and DeSoto parishes showed 54 percent were serving sentences for drug crimes; 18 percent for burglary; 10 percent for firearms violations; 9 percent for theft; and 5 percent for battery. The rest were for DWI, possession of stolen property, failing to register as a sex offender, forgery, property damage and robbery.

Two Northwest Louisiana prosecutors weighed in on the issue: Bossier-Webster D.A. Schuyler Marvin said he has reservations about early releases re-offending. Caddo D.A. James Stewart says prosecutors were involved in drafting the criminal justice reform laws and that was the time to debate the merits.


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