Governor vetoes bill that extended prison terms for people convicted of four nonviolent crimes 

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards vetoed legislation he said would've rolled back changes to its 2017 Justice Reinvestment Act.

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Democratic Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards vetoed new legislation this week he said would have rolled back changes made to the state’s 2017 Justice Reinvestment Act. 

“House Bill 544 would take us in the wrong direction,” Edwards wrote in the veto memo, according to The New Orleans Advocate

Louisiana Gov. Jon Bel Edwards, shown in the White House in 2020, vetoed legislation this week he said would have rolled back changes made to the state’s 2017 Justice Reinvestment Act. (Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times/Pool/Getty Images)

The bill, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Debbie Villio, would increase prison terms for felons convicted of four or more nonviolent offenses. 

Under current law, prisoners are eligible for parole once they have served 25 percent of their sentence. HB 544 would have extended the eligibility period to 65 percent of the sentence for persons sentenced to a fourth nonviolent felony. The bill would have also changed the rate of “good time” for the incarcerated. 

A decrease in the number of inmates in Louisiana has saved the state $114.8 million. According to The Advocate, that money has been spent on victim’s services and initiatives designed to reduce recidivism. If HB 544 becomes law, it would increase prison housing costs by more than $25 million. 

In his lengthy memo, Edwards noted that the 2017 Justice Reinvestment effort passed with strong bipartisan support. The bill focused on non-violent and no-sex offenses, he wrote, “in an effort to change Louisiana’s status as the state with the highest incarceration rate in the country.” 

“Just five years in, these changes are working,” Edwards contended. 

He noted that HB 544 would take the state “in the wrong direction.” 

“The people of this state are not served, nor are they made more safe, by imposing longer prison sentences on non-violent and non-sex offenders,” the governor wrote. He asserted “the way to reduce recidivism is to provide for job training and life skills that will assist individuals in becoming productive members of society. These efforts are working, and we should not change course.” 

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