A report from the ACLU of Louisiana lays out a blueprint for cutting the state’s prison population by 50 percent.

One of the recommendations is changing the multiple offender statute that substantially ramps up penalties for offenders who’ve committed the same crime previously. Executive Director Alanah Odoms Hebert says it’s better to fix the cause of the crimes.

“Many times people have substance abuse problems, they have mental health diagnosis that many times go untreated, and many times these crimes are crimes of poverty.”

Hebert says multiple offender statues can result in decades of prison time for people accused of low level crimes.

Another fix would be eliminating the ability for judges to sentence someone to life without parole. Hebert says that wouldn’t mean automatically releasing murderers early, but it would give some higher level offenders the opportunity to state their case…

“It simply means that a person has an opportunity to go in front of a parole board, and to provide their record of rehabilitation, and their behavioral record if they have one, and to simply be considered.”

Louisiana is one of two states where the mandatory sentence for second degree murder is life without parole, and one of only six states where life without parole is an option at all.

African Americans make up 33 percent of the state’s population, but are 66 percent of the inmates. Hebert says other recommendations eliminating racial disparities in sentencing, and reducing or eliminating cash bond and other monetary penalties that hit the poor hardest.

“Many people of color also suffer in poverty, so when you address those aspects of the system, the criminal justice system, that are wealth based, that really helps reduce disparities in race as well.”

The ACLU is backing LaPlace Representative Randal Gaines’ bill that would reform the multiple offenders statute.

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