Here's how post-prison life will change under Louisiana's criminal justice reform

July 5, 2017

By Julia O'Donoghue | [email protected] | The Times-Picayune

Louisiana lawmakers approved a criminal justice system overhaul -- one that advocates are calling historic -- during the 2017 regular legislative session. We've broken down the package into three parts, the third of them here about what will be different when an offender is released with prison.

Safeguards for victims

When violent offenders are released from prison, their victims may request that the attackers limit contact and keep a certain distance as a condition of parole. The conditions are not automatic; they are subject to a decision by a parole committee. This change takes effect Aug. 1.

Crimes of violence include armed robbery, murder, manslaughter, home invasion, sexual assault, rape, stalking, carjacking, domestic abuse and certain drunk driving offenses that result in death.

Payment rules relaxed

A judge may waive or suspend fees, fines and victim restitution payments for people who are on parole and probation and not able to afford them. In some case, the person would be placed on a monthly repayment plan for outstanding fines or fees.

For the most part, people also would not face having their probation extended or being sent back to prison solely because they cannot pay. An exception is allowed for victim restitution, for which parole may be extended once for six months.

This new set of laws takes effect Aug. 1.

Business licenses easier to get, keep

People coming out of prison for a non-violent crime may apply immediately for business licenses or start the credential process needed to get a business license, without having to wait. That's a change from current law, which makes some ex-convicts first apply for a provisional license or wait two years to get a permanent license.

An ex-convict will be at risk of losing his or her business license only upon commission of another crime that is similar to the one that landed them in prison. A business license will not be automatically cancelled if, for example, someone's parole or probation is revoked for a new crime unrelated to the previous offense.

People convicted of several violent crimes, such as murder, are not entitled to receive a business license. And a judge may decide that a person poses a safety risk and forbid the person to obtain certain types of business licenses

These news laws go into place Aug. 1.

Relief on child support payments

For the most part, people in prison and also under court order to pay child support won't have to pay while they are locked up, and that debt will not accumulate while they are incarcerated. The goal is to limit the amount of debt that people face immediately upon release from prison.

Advocates of criminal justice reform say ex-inmates are more likely to return to crime and end up in jail again if they face thousands of dollars in delinquent child support payments upon release. Delinquency leads to their wages being garnished and discourages them from finding legitimate work.

Those who can afford to pay child support, despite being incarcerated, still must make payments. And those who are in prison because of not paying child support in the first place, and those incarcerated for for domestic abuse charges, also are not excused from payments.

Once a prisoner is released, a judge may order child support for a longer period of time. These payments could go towards supporting an adult child, something not typically allowed, and extend to as many years as they were suspended while the offender was in prison.

This law will go into effect Jan. 1.

Food stamps for drug offenders

Drug felons will get access to food stamps and other federal welfare benefits upon release from prison, instead of having to wait a year. People convicted of violent felonies already are eligible for food stamps and other welfare benefits immediately.

This law change will take place Oct. 1.