Bills ending parole, good time are misguided

Editor’s note: The following commentary was submitted the Council on Criminal Justice and was co-authored by Marc A. Levin of Houston and Scott Peyton of Washington, La.
There is no more vital function of government than protecting public safety, and that solemn duty must include anchoring criminal justice policies in evidence.
While Louisiana leaders are rightfully making crime a priority during this legislative special session, proposals to virtually abolish parole and restrict good time credit would cost taxpayers millions without making Louisiana safer.
One proposed piece of legislation, House Bill 9, would eliminate parole eligibility for people behind bars, excluding juveniles. Yet just 387 people were granted parole in 2023 in a state where more than 200,000 criminal offense incidents occur each year.
Parole clearly has a negligible effect on crime, and there is even evidence that eliminating parole may increase recidivism. Louisiana data reveals that ordinary prison releasees have more than twice the rate of re-incarceration as those released on parole. Moreover, research done in other states, such as New Jersey and Nebraska. found higher rates of recidivism among those who “max out” their sentence as compared with those paroled. These findings reflect the value of parole supervision, both in providing accountability and services to help a person transition into employment and housing.
Another proposal, House Bill 10, would gut Louisiana’s good-time credit law by limiting the time earned by prisoners to just 15 percent of their total sentence. This would not only roll back the state’s landmark 2017 justice reinvestment law but also would create a harsher policy than prior to 2017.
Louisiana already has some of the nation’s toughest penal laws. For example, the Pelican State has more than twice the share of prisoners serving life without parole than Alabama, a state hardly known for coddling criminals.
Like the abolition of parole, this proposal is a solution in search of a problem. A February 2024 report by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor found recidivism among those who received good time credits from 2017 to 2023 was no higher than for those who did not.
One thing that both HB9 and HB10 have in common is that, by dimming the light at the end of the tunnel, they would undermine the incentive for those behind bars to exhibit exemplary behavior and pursue self-improvement. This is not just damaging to prisoners, but also to facility staff and ultimately to the public and communities where they are eventually released.
Furthermore, Louisiana is ill-equipped to grow its prison population. Since the pandemic, we have seen one of the largest drops in our correctional staff, and inadequate staffing is one factor attributed to the growing number of deaths in Louisiana prisons. Nonetheless, despite homicide declines in New Orleans and Baton Rouge in 2023, lawmakers are properly focused on combating the intolerably high levels of violent crime in many Louisiana communities. But rather than arbitrarily making long sentences longer, they should seek to prevent and solve more crimes.
In 2022, 63% of violent crimes in Louisiana went unsolved, increasing substantially from 2018 at 56%. The millions these bills will cost taxpayers could instead be put into grants to fund promising approaches for solving more violent crimes, including hiring and training more detectives, expanding crime lab capacity, and increasing engagement with victims and witnesses. This parallels the approach laid out by the Council on Criminal Justice’s Task Force on Long Sentences. The broad group of national leaders, led by former federal prosecutors Sally Yates and Trey Gowdy and former Louisiana Chief Justice Bernette Johnson, reached consensus that the same resources should be invested in law enforcement and community programs to prevent violence in the first place.
The question isn’t should Louisiana be tough on crime, but instead whether the state will muster the conviction to insist on achieving real results — not just political fodder. Parole and good time credits are integral to a system designed to not only punish but also provide a chance for rehabilitation and redemption. Let’s fight crime without fighting the facts on what works to make us safer.

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Thomas FieldsThomas “Tuffy” Fields is an author and regular contributor to The Gazette. He can …

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