For the past 26 years I have served as sheriff for the people of Lafourche Parish, people who are as concerned about and tough on crime as any others in Louisiana. As sheriff, and as former president of the National Sheriff’s Association, I have been actively involved in the ongoing debate over innovative policies being employed around the U.S. that look at incarceration in a different light and seek to institute common-sense changes that bring meaningful improvements to Louisiana’s criminal justice system.
One look at where we are is more than enough to convince even the casual observer that what Louisiana has been doing for decades isn’t working. Being the world’s leading incarcerator isn’t a record we should be proud of, especially when our prisons and jails are filled with repeat offenders who have learned nothing from their time behind bars through a system designed largely to house and not to rehabilitate. For decades, we have simply thrown money at a process that has been proven to fail prisoners, victims, taxpayers and society at large; and done nothing to reduce crime rates or rates of recidivism.
That’s why the recently implemented criminal Justice Reinvestment Act, passed through a bipartisan effort of the Louisiana legislature earlier this year, is so important and should be given a chance to work and achieve meaningful results — just as similar laws have in other equally conservative southern states such as Texas, North and South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
Considering Texas for example, where crime has dropped 30 percent along with a 16 percent reduction in prison populations, or North Carolina, where crime rates have plummeted 19 percent despite no upfront investment in expanded re-entry or training programs. There is no reason to assume that Louisiana’s positive outcomes will be any different if we only have the fortitude to stay the course and implement these new policies effectively and efficiently.
An important element of the Justice Reinvestment Act is the reallocation of approximately $184 million away from simply housing prisoners into programs that reduce the incidence of repeat offenses and support victims of crime. Another critical component of the act addresses root causes — including drug abuse or serious mental health issues facing those who commit crimes such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. These are sensible, long-overdue investments that have demonstrated their value in other states, and which should be given an opportunity to work here too.
As a sheriff, family man and taxpayer I am very optimistic and proud that Louisiana is taking steps forward to do what others have done successfully. I am convinced that these smart justice reforms will improve safety and the quality of life for the people Louisiana law enforcement serves.
Lafourche Parish sheriff