By Grace Toohey
Louisiana corrections officials hope to build on their success from the last decade when former inmates returned to prison at decreasing rates with a renewed federal grant focusing on recidivism of high-need prisoners and using state savings from its criminal justice reforms.
This year, the bayou state will bring back its most-successful initiative, focusing on inmates with both mental illness and substance abuse disorders as they complete their sentences. The new Second Chance Act funding will work with these prisoners returning to the Baton Rouge and St. Tammany areas before and after their release.
From 2004 to 2014, the rate in Louisiana of ex-convicts who returned to prison within three years of their release decreased by 12 percent, according to a national justice organization’s November report on prisoners affected by Second Chance Act programs. The report shows that almost 39 of every 100 such former inmates in Louisiana returned to prison within a three year window in 2004, but in 2014, 34 per 100 did. The numbers are not reflective of the entire state’s prison population, but only the a portion involved in two programs that focused on high-need and high-risk offenders, according to corrections spokesman Ken Pastorick.
The report analyzed recidivism rates for 11 states that utilized federal funds from the Second Chance Act to implement innovative programs to support vulnerable prison populations returning to society; Louisiana had used three such grants since 2011.
“We started actively cooperating in the community post-release to get them engaged; that had a significant effect,” Department of Corrections Assistant Secretary Rhett Covington said in an interview Wednesday. “We went from a zero percent post-release treatment engagement to an 83 percent post-release treatment engagement.”