With an incarceration rate that has increased by 35 percent over the past 20 years, resulting in annual costs to taxpayers as high as $700 million Louisiana jails people at a rate nearly double the national average. This upcoming legislative session, Louisiana lawmakers have an opportunity to turn a corner and implement conservative, data-driven policies that will improve public safety while lowering the rate of incarceration.
After referencing the best research in the field and a year long period of extensive stakeholder discussion, The Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task force developed 26 policy recommendations aimed at protecting citizens while getting a better return on public safety dollars. The goal of these smart data driven recommendations is to address the state drivers of high prison admissions and lengthy stays that have created a bloated system that is complicated, often inaccessible to victims, and creates barriers for both those convicted of crimes and those in administering the sentencing system.
Recidivism in Louisiana is extremely high where 1 in three people return to prison within just three years. The Task Force also found that Louisiana sends people to prison for nonviolent, drug and property crimes at twice the rate of neighboring South Carolina and three times the rate of Florida. These states notably have identical crime rates to Louisiana.
House Speaker Tyler Barras has said “A lot of our low-level drug and property crime is driven by addiction…We can save millions and also have less crime by focusing prison beds on those who pose a more serious public safety threat and making smart investments in probation and drug treatment for nonviolent crimes.”
Recommendations from the task force chart a data driven course for comprehensive reform and address high admissions for probation failures and nonviolent crimes and growth in those prisoners serving longest terms. They allow greater discretion for judges and parole boards and the reforms similar to the task force recommendations have reduced crime and imprisonment in other states. These reforms ensure clarity and consistency in sentencing, focus prison beds on those who pose a serious public safety threat and strengthen community supervision and paths to successful reentry.
States such as Texas, Georgia and Alabama have adopted similar practices to make their justice systems more effective and sustainable and Louisiana is in good company in following their lead.
“Our criminal justice system needs major reformation,” said Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc, chairman of the blue ribbon panel. “It’s costing taxpayers a ton of money and not getting outcomes. I’ve never seen such bipartisan support and call for reform”
There is no defense for maintaining the status quo with that same bipartisan, business, and public support for spending fewer taxpayer dollars on ineffective prisons and dedicating those funds to alternatives that have a proven track record of results. We are encouraged by this progress and hope to see Louisiana shed the dubious honor of the incarceration capital of the world.