Years of progress reforming Louisiana’s criminal justice system is bringing real results, and we are now on the precipice of true systematic change to our justice system that could make Louisiana a model for the nation.
After devoting over 40 years to public safety and reforming Louisiana’s prisons, it is exciting to witness how our state is finally in a position to reverse generations of policies that have made Louisiana the prison capital of the world. In an age of so much partisan hostility, it is extra special that these reforms are being supported and implemented by a broad coalition of leaders across party lines.
Since 2011, Louisiana’s prison population has declined 10.5 percent, which puts us on a short list of states that have shown reducing incarceration numbers is possible. With our state spending approximately $700 million annually on corrections, this 10.5 percent reduction in the offender population equates to a cumulative taxpayer savings of roughly $38 million per year.
Likewise, we have also seen a reduction in recidivism rates by approximately 8 percent. These reductions mean that more of our state’s residents are able to rejoin the workforce after being released. It means that we can have more individuals contributing to their communities and our state, as opposed to being a drain on society.
The successes we have achieved are largely due to the reestablishment of the Sentencing Commission, as well as the investments that we, alongside the sheriffs, district attorneys and judges, have made in the criminal justice system. Just a few of the reforms we have achieved over the past eight years include:
Establishing 10 statewide re-entry program centers at the local level to ensure that offenders exiting out of local jails are better prepared to transition back into their home communities.
Opening 8 day-reporting facilities statewide and allowing probation officers to sanction probationers with administrative and/or short-term sanctions for technical violations of their supervision conditions, instead of sending them back to prison.
Reducing mandatory minimums, including archaic penalties for simple possession of marijuana.
Implementing the use of motivational interviewing, an offender-centered method of communication, which probation and parole officers use to help offenders think more positively and enhance motivation for life changes.
This legislative session, several bills are far along in the process of becoming laws that build on our efforts. One example, the “Ban the Box” bill, will go a long way to making it so that ex-offenders will have a fair shot at state and local government jobs. I would like to thank Gov. John Bel Edwards for his leadership on this change, as well has his public commitment to sentencing reform in future legislative sessions.
Recognizing the importance of building on our positive momentum, last year the Legislature passed a resolution to create the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task Force. The task force has been charged with analyzing the causes of Louisiana’s high prison population, determining the drivers, and creating consensus on a comprehensive criminal justice reform package that hopefully can be implemented next year. The task force will seek to draft legislation that will further reduce prison populations by further implementing strategies proven enhance public safety by reducing crime.
Nearly a decade of hard work by criminal justice reform advocates has gotten us to this point. We have taken a number of steps that prove criminal justice reform works, prison populations can be reduced, and rehabilitation of ex-offenders is possible. I look forward to leading the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task Force and working with a bipartisan group of stakeholders on the goal of one-day removing Louisiana as “the prison capital of the world.”
Jimmy LeBlanc is the secretary of the Louisiana Department of Corrections.