Louisiana has long been the nation’s incarceration leader, imprisoning more of its citizens per capita than any other state, and at a rate nearly twice the national average. Our policies come at a substantial cost to our taxpayers — $700 million annually — and with poor outcomes.
One in three people who comes out of the prison system return in three years, and our crime rate is no better than in states that incarcerate less. In fact, our state sends people to prison for non-violent offenses at twice the rate of South Carolina and three times the rate of Florida — states with almost identical crime rates.
Louisiana cannot continue investing in its unique formula of high incarceration, high costs, and high recidivism when we know reform laws with proven results have been implemented in 33 states since 2007. In fact, Texas, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina have adopted similar reforms and have all simultaneously cut costs and improved public safety.
Smart on Crime Louisiana’s statewide, business-led coalition supports the newly released recommendations from the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task Force and urges our legislature to pass this comprehensive criminal justice system reform.
These recommendations are the result of a nine-month, data-driven process revealing that Louisiana is an outlier in our criminal justice policies and best-practice standards. The recommendations are not pioneering — they simply modify Louisiana’s laws to be more in line with other states. The results in those states have been remarkable.
Since its reforms in 2010, South Carolina's prison population and crime are both down 16 percent —and at lower costs. Since passing a criminal justice reform package in 2007, Texas has seen its incarceration rate drop 16 percent while the crime rate has plummeted by 30 percent — its lowest since 1961. In Georgia, similar reforms in 2012 led to a 7 percent decline in incarceration, and crime is down 11 percent. States like Alabama, Mississippi, and Oklahoma have also experienced similar results.
Any argument that the Task Force’s recommendations are soft on crime is belied by these facts. Texas is not soft on crime. The Task Force report estimates that our state will experience $305 million in cost savings over the next decade as we implement smart reforms that reduce the prison population and reduce crime. Louisiana simply cannot afford to ignore the relevant lessons from our sister states.
The path will not be easy. Old mindsets and habits, strong emotions, and entrenched interests make this a difficult challenge. But we should use data, not anecdotal information, as our roadmap for legislation. Lawmakers should boldly support this data-driven criminal justice reform package, knowing that enlightened business leaders throughout the state will stand with you every step of the way, confident that similar reforms are already proven in numerous other Southern states. Why not Louisiana?
James M. Lapeyre is the president of Laitram, LCC. John Finan is the immediate past chairman of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.