The Legislature has given overwhelming support to several bills aimed at changing Louisiana’s system of dealing with nonviolent criminals.
We endorse the proposals, put forward by the Louisiana Sentencing Commission and developed by the Pew Center for the States, a study group. We urge Gov. Bobby Jindal to sign the bills.
Broadly, the measures make it easier for nonviolent offenders, even second-offenders in some circumstances, to become eligible for parole. The idea is that with more intensive supervision, a nonviolent offender has a better chance at reforming his life.
There is a financial benefit to the state in a reduction in costs for prisons. Our sister states of Mississippi and Texas have made similar changes, in fact have been more aggressive. Early reports are that those efforts have been successful.
But as state Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie, told the Senate before its 37-2 endorsement of one of the key bills in the package, the effort is not purely about money.
“This is just a good first step in taking a look at the way we incarcerate people and the costs involved,” he said. “It’s not going to balance the budget.”
That is certainly true if the state steps up and makes effective probation supervision a key part of this reform. That costs money, too, but it’s necessary if the reforms are to succeed.
If the work of the Sentencing Commission and other officials and experts was vital to passage of the bills, there was also a political factor at work: a national movement by conservative activists to take a second look at corrections policy.
The “Right on Crime” initiative is pushed in Louisiana by the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, a conservative group in New Orleans. “We felt that conservatives should not back away from this issue,” said Kevin Kane, president of the Pelican Institute.
“There are other ways to deal with them,” Kane said of nonviolent offenders, protecting public safety but also reducing the taxpayers’ burden of corrections costs.
Tough-on-crime slogans might be less scary to politicians if reforms are backed by bipartisan efforts.
We believe a significant factor in broad acceptance of parole reforms is active support of prominent conservatives and the examples of Republican administrations in Texas and Mississippi that provided good examples for Louisiana lawmakers.