Signed bills to free some inmates faster

Gov. Bobby Jindal signed bills into law Tuesday that he said will make the criminal justice system run more efficiently.

One of the bills could result in first-time offenders serving less time in prison while another seeks to clarify the amount of time toward release that inmates are credited for good behavior.

The legislation stemmed from recommendations by judges, attorneys and law enforcement officials who serve on the Louisiana Sentencing Commission.

House Bill 416 by state Rep. Joseph Lopinto, R-Metairie, targets first-time offenders convicted of nonviolent or non-sex-related offenses.

Currently, such an inmate must serve a third of his or her sentence before becoming eligible for parole. HB416 cuts the time to 25 percent.

Lopinto said the legislation only applies to those sentenced on or after Aug. 15, 2011.

“Any person in jail right now would love for it to affect them, but we didn’t want to overrule a judge’s sentence,” Lopinto said.

The goal is to encourage inmates to participate in prison programs that increase their parole chances, Lopinto said. The programs include drug rehabilitation and high school diploma equivalency courses.

He said the state also stands to save the cost of housing the inmates if they serve less time.

The Legislative Fiscal Office reported that the state locked up more than 4,000 first-time offenders last year who did not commit violent or sex-related crimes. During roughly that same time frame, the office said, the state Parole Board granted 28 percent of parole applications.

Another bill signed by the governor, HB414, delves into the complicated rules surrounding “good time.”

“Good time” refers to the amount of time taken off an inmate’s sentence for good behavior.

The Legislative Fiscal Office reported that the bill deals with “consolidating statutes and amending redundancies.”

Originally, however, the legislation would have increased the amount of “good time” an inmate could receive, pushing him or her faster toward release.

“I don’t care if we gave them a couple of extra days or didn’t give them a couple of extra days,” said Lopinto, who sponsored the legislation.

He said sheriffs objected to granting extra time so he amended out that language.

The bill now simply clarifies how “good time” is calculated.

The governor is nearing the end of his review of the bills sent to him during the 2011 Regular Legislative Session.

On Tuesday, Jindal also signed into law:

• Senate Bill 269 by state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, to consolidate the state’s housing programs under the umbrella of the newly formed Louisiana Housing Corporation.

• Senate Bill 135 by state Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, to extend a tax break to businesses for research expenses. Instead of a tax credit, the incentive now will become a rebate.

• Senate Bill 43 by state Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, to give more flexibility to charter school operators.

• House Bill 360 by state Rep. Charmaine Stiaes, D-New Orleans, to allow charter schools to function as boarding schools.