Louisiana is moving ahead with its rollout of this year’s prison modernization initiatives.
After a landmark bipartisan vote, Pelican State lawmakers passed a package of criminal justice reforms that were based on the recommendations of the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Taskforce.
The task force –a non-partisan group of 14 members with diverse professional experience, including prosecutors, defense attorneys, representatives of the courts and executive branch, lawmakers and other seasoned criminal justice experts – was called together to solve a major criminal justice problem in Louisiana.
For years, Louisiana tried to simply warehouse offenders. But this dated approach resulted in runaway spending and lackluster safety gains. Indeed, Louisiana has been the prison capitol of the world yet still had some of the nation’s worst public safety statistics.
The task force did not take its job lightly. To develop its recommendations, the Task Force underwent a top to bottom analysis of Louisiana’s criminal justice system, a close examination of policies that have proven successful in other southern states, and even reviewed scientific research about changing criminal behavior and keeping the public safe.
The task force’s suggestions to this problem were well thought out and logical: penalties in Louisiana should be both tailored to fit the crime committed and designed to permanently fix criminal behavior. It is no secret that just locking someone up for years only creates a better criminal. Studies have shown that certain inmates experience a higher likelihood of reoffending after a certain sentence length. This is due to increased exposure of less dangerous individuals to hardened criminals over time.
After last year’s prison bills, low level offenders will receive sentences that more closely reflect their crime and the harm they pose to society. Certain offenders will also qualify for earlier parole, allowing them to avoid the criminogenic effects of prison while being monitored by law enforcement. Time off will depend in many cases on the inmate’s participation in means-tested recidivism reduction programs. If they want time off, they will have to earn it.
What’s more, almost all people currently incarcerated in the state will be released at some point. These reforms improve the system by ensuring that it is focused on reducing their likelihood of reoffending.
As part of the changes, 1,900 nonviolent offenders were released earlier this month after their sentences were adjusted to reflect this year’s reforms, but this should not cause any alarm. Absent any reform, these offenders would have been released in the coming months as a matter of course. Louisiana already releases roughly 1,500 inmates a month anyway, so the upcoming release accounts for a one month doubling of the average. They’ll be home for Thanksgiving now, instead of having to wait until after the New Year.
According to Executive Director of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association Pete Adams, DAs want to handle reform “in a manner that was responsible and that protected public safety,” and lauded the reform package. They echoed hopes that “with these changes, we can generate some savings, build up these services, and lower our incarceration rate safely.”
Without reform, Louisiana would have missed out on the public safety gains seen in states like Georgia, Texas, and South Carolina—states that have been using the same data-driven process to craft evidence-based improvements to great effect.
In a recent poll, 68% of Louisianans agreed that whether the system reduces crime is more important than the sentence length. These reforms are proven, smart, and popular. It would be a major error to roll back Louisiana’s commitment to public safety.