As a former Orleans Parish assistant district attorney and a former member of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association, I’m appalled by the LDAA’s reaction to recent criminal justice reform efforts put forth by state leaders. As ministers of the law, it is our obligation to improve the criminal justice system, ensure public safety, and protect the innocent — not to score “wins.”
Since the March release of the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Taskforce’s long-awaited prison reform recommendations, much of the reaction to the task force’s findings has been overwhelmingly positive. However, the LDAA recently published a highly critical statement in response.
This is more than unfortunate—it’s potentially disastrous to our state’s finances, as well as the well-being of our communities. Of the 26 recommendations made by the LJRT, the LDAA claims to “support the concept” of nine, oppose as written eight, and flat-out oppose the remaining seven. Through this response, LDAA is unnecessarily endangering badly needed — and highly popular — reforms.
It’s time for reform along the lines of the LJRT’s recommendations, which are similar to successful reform policies implemented in other Southern states. Another excellent resource is a recent Fair Punishment Project report, which broadly supports the Task Force’s recommendations and outlines five of the LJRT’s reforms Louisiana should implement to “save taxpayers’ money and bring the state’s sentencing laws more in line with the rest of the country.”
According to the latest LSU Louisiana Survey, a significant majority of state residents support criminal justice reforms. Support for reform can also be found across the political spectrum and throughout the business community, prison reform activists, and conservative organizations such as the Louisiana Family Forum and Right on Crime.
The LDAA is purposefully stoking public fears and disregarding facts in order to maintain a status quo that is adding greatly to Louisiana’s fiscal problems, imprisons far too many nonviolent offenders for far too long, and tears at the fabric of our communities. It is vital that either the LDAA stop its scare tactics, or that the Legislature rejects the group's blatant attempts to undermine these commonsense, data-driven reforms.
As the LDAA rightly states in its response, district attorneys serve as the “primary protectors of public safety in the courtroom.” But as the organization’s mission statement also says, state district attorneys are bound to “improve Louisiana’s criminal justice system.” If this is true, they must stop being obstructionist and get on board with the LJRT recommendations.
Now, the fate of reform is in the hands of state legislators. They should choose the LJRT’s data-driven, commonsense reforms over the hyperbole and vindictiveness of the LDAA.