BATON ROUGE, La. -- The question of why Louisiana sends more people to prison than any other state in the nation is being studied by a panel of judges, attorneys and law enforcement officials.

Currently, 40,000 inmates are held in state and local prisons and jails.

'Obviously, we're a poster child for room for improvement in our criminal justice system,' said Jimmy LeBlanc, secretary of the state Department of Corrections and a member of the Louisiana Sentencing Commission.

The commission is scheduled to meet in August to discuss the issue.

A recent report by the Justice Department said that Louisiana's prison population is growing, putting a strain on limited state finances. It costs about $54 per day to house an inmate in a state prison.

Although the sentencing panel has existed for years, a new law calls for the panel to review sentencing practices, probation and parole supervision and alternatives to incarceration.

'We have to look at best practices around the country and come up with smart ways to deal with crime and sentencing,' said state Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, who sponsored the law.

A study by the University of Virginia recently noted that Louisiana's prison population has grown 130 percent during the past 20 years.

'If we're going to get out of the highest incarceration rate in the world, we have to find a better approach,' LeBlanc said.

LeBlanc said the commission wants to have research and recommendations ready for next year's legislative session.

Ricky Babin, the commission's chairman, said that funding and resources are hurdles the panel is trying to overcome.

'We've got a lot of work to do. We have no resources. We have no budget,' said Babin, who is district attorney of Ascension, St. James and Assumption parishes.

Babin said some people are volunteering their time to work on the study.

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