Can rehabilitation programs reduce La.'s sky-high incarceration rate?

Touted expanded re-entry program at a press conference as one way to help keep more people out of jail -- saving money and reducing crime in the process


By Diana Samuels
NOLA.com

BATON ROUGE — When you feel angry, is there something you say to yourself to help calm down? Instructor Julie Roberts posed the question to her classroom of inmates at the West Baton Rouge Parish Prison.

Lyrics from the rapper T.I., one of the men volunteered, dressed like all the others in an orange jumpsuit with WBR Parish Prison stamped down the leg. A lot of what T.I. says is motivational, tackling topics like jealousy, he said.

"He has a lot to say about (motivational subjects) in a lot of his songs," he said.

Another inmate spoke up, telling the class he tries to remind himself that he can't always control the situation. That sometimes he needs to understand what he can't change.

That's really important, Roberts agreed.

The inmates, who were in the middle of an anger management course, are part of an "offender re-entry" program that's newly expanded to the Baton Rouge region and other areas around the state.

Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the world. And while officials acknowledge they have a long way to go even before the state drops to number two in the U.S., they touted the expanded re-entry program at a press conference on Wednesday as one way to help keep more people out of jail -- saving money and reducing crime in the process.

"Make no mistake about it, there will always be a need for prisons and jails," state Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary James Le Blanc said. "There will always be a need for people with criminal mindsets to be separate from the public. ... But in my 40 years in corrections, I've seen many, many people that with appropriate resources and guidance have proven that change is possible."

Full story: New prison re-entry programs: Can they help reduce Louisiana's sky-high incarceration rate?

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