1,000+ convicts set to walk free on November 1
BATON ROUGE- Upwards of 1500 prisoners are set to walk free on November 1, 2017 as part of a prison reform package that sailed through the legislature this year.
The point of the Justice Reinvestment Act was to decrease the number of people incarcerated by reducing non-violent offenders. That in turn would also create a cost savings to the state of nearly $250 million dollars over the next ten years.
However, the WBRZ Investigative Unit found several of the offenders that will walk on November 1, 2017 are actually violent.
Joshua Weatherspoon was arrested for second-degree murder in 2004 in Ascension Parish. It happened after a 21-year old was found dead near a rest stop in Sorrento. At trial, Weatherspoon got a deal for testifying against others, and was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder. He was sentenced to 30 years for his crime in 2007. But, after serving ten years, he's set to walk in two weeks.
"You see some individuals and wonder, one of them is doing 30 years in prison for conspiracy to commit first-degree murder," District Attorney Ricky Babin said. "He served ten and is getting ready to be cut loose."
Babin says of the 24 set to be released from his district, at least five are violent offenders. There's nothing anyone can do to block the release. Multiple other District Attorneys across Louisiana are in the same boat.
"The fear is there are people who are being released from prison that have served a fraction of their time," Babin said. "Part of what we do is not about the defendant, but is protecting the community from the defendant. That's been shortened so we feel there's going to be an increased risk."
Babin is not alone. In East Baton Rouge Parish, District Attorney Hillar Moore estimates hundreds of inmates will be turned loose on November 1. The stats don't look good for these offenders. According to Moore, nationally speaking, half of all offenders released from prison reoffend.
"If you are going to do this the right way, you've got to supervise and help these people," Moore said. "We dont' have the infrastructure for that. Texas did similar things, but pre-invested $40 million and got ready for the day to happen. I'm not sure we're there."
According to the state, extreme oversight and a careful review is made of each offender's record. The state also claims only non-violent offenders are being allowed out. But, that goes against what DA Ricky Babin says, as one of his offenders set to be released participated in a murder.
Carolyn Stapleton has dedicated the majority of her life to crime victims rights. She's troubled for the victims, especially with all the deals that are cut in courts everyday.
"The crime they committed is not the crime they were sentenced to," Stapleton said. "85 percent of the time, a plea bargain is involved. You can have a very violent person and plea it down. An attempted murder can be an aggravated battery which does not indicate what they did."
Stapleton says, she brought up that issue before lawmakers this year and fought the legislation as it sailed through the Capitol. But, with Louisiana having the highest incarceration rate in the nation, the justice reinvestment program was passed designed to change that. The program is expected to reduce the prison population by ten percent and save about $262 million over the next ten years. The law was passed this year. District Attorneys across the state say the odds are great that they will see these inmates who are set free... again.
"My question will be what type of supervision will these folks be given," Moore asked. "What type of work has been done with them prior to their release to ensure they have all the tools not to reoffend?"
"Overwhelmingly, I haven't talked to a District Attorney yet that is happy with this and doesn't have some fear about what's about to happen," Babin said.
According to Babin and Moore, nearly 96 percent of the people convicted in the United States receive some type of plea deal. The state says the inmates that are being released are participating in re-entry programs. Crime victims advocates say, victims need to register with Louisiana's Victim Notification System if they haven't done so...in order to be notified of when offenders are released.
You can register online by clicking HERE.