BATON ROUGE—House Bill 146 is one of a number of measures introduced in the Louisiana State Legislature this session that are meant to eliminate obstacles for convicted felons re-entering society after offense.
Introduced by Rep. Helena Moreno (D-District 93) in February, H.B. 146, which limits the liability of certain persons who are mentoring offenders on probation, passed the House and is now with the Senate's Committee on Judiciary A.
“H.B. 146 is designed to encourage volunteers to provide services, and it waives liability if an event should occur.” the Rev. Gene Mills explained to the Louisiana Record. “The bill does not waive liability for gross negligence or intentional acts of the mentor.”
Mills, who is president of Louisiana Family Forum and Louisiana Family Forum Action, believes that rehabilitation should be available for low-level offenders who have accepted responsibility for their crimes. Instead of punishing these individuals and making re-entry more difficult, “we should be working for a criminal justice system that encourages successful reintegration into society," he said.
H.B. 146 expands employers' liability shields and encourages more employers to participate in the Re-entry Court System
The Re-entry Court System is a multi-faceted judicial system program, which includes four phases.
In Phase I, offenders may be required to go through substance abuse treatment and complete it successfully. Clients in Phase I have a curfew and must check in by telephone with the probation officer as instructed. To move on to Phase II, each offender must have a sponsor and be drug-free. Each phase has a timeline and specific requirements, which include maintaining employment and continuing to pass drug tests. Part of the steps include getting a GED, and taking classes to learn more vocational skills and life skills.
Judge Trudy White refers to the follow-up program as an "intensive after-care program." Offenders must follow the mandates of their probation, but they are linked to support volunteers in the community to provide jobs, transportation and housing.
To be considered for the program, an offender must be referred by one of the criminal judges in the judicial district court with the consent of the assistant district attorney, defense counsel and the re-entry judge. Sex offenders, violent offenders and repeat offenders are not eligible for the program, nor are offenders with a sentence greater than 10 years.
Other bills related to the Re-entry Court currently being considered in the legislature include H.B. 1022, which allows for the suspension of sentences upon completion of Re-entry Court; and H.B. 347, which would create more Re-entry Courts. H.B. 1022 is pending in the Senate; and H.B. 347 has cleared both chambers and is awaiting Gov. John Bel Edwards' signature.
Currently, the Re-Entry Court is only available in the 22nd Judicial Court District (JDC) \in St. Tammany Parish, the 15th JDC in Lafayette Parish and the 24th JDC in Jefferson Parish. The 19th JDC Re-Entry Court was approved on June 18, 2014.
Mills hopes “these bills will bring sane reform to the criminal system by supporting employment opportunities and lowering recidivism rates.”
“Louisiana is the incarceration capital of the world,” Mills said. “Approximately 2.2 million Louisiana residents have a criminal record.”
Critics are concerned about being soft on crime, but Mills said H.B. 146 does not change rules for offenders. It simply encourages people in the community to mentor them.
"The difference in completing the term is often a coach who provides support outside of the system," he said.
HB 146 is scheduled to be considered by the Senate Committee on Judiciary A on Monday.