Thanks to The Advocate for supporting the essential movement towards reforming Louisiana’s criminal justice system. It’s past time to recognize that we cannot afford the cost in both squandered human potential and tax dollars that our bloated criminal justice system demands.
The ACLU of Louisiana is a nonpartisan organization that’s been at the forefront of this movement for many years. We’re proud to have worked with the Pelican Institute on this issue since 2013 and will continue to partner with them for as long as it takes to accomplish our shared goal of criminal justice reform.
For years, the ACLU has worked in Louisiana to ease the harshness of our criminal justice system. Our efforts have resulted in laws expanding voter information for those completing their sentences (R.S.18:177.1 , enacted 2008), increasing parole opportunities for elderly prisoners (R.S.15:574.4(A)(4), enacted 2011) and those serving time for certain nonviolent offenses (R.S. 15:574.4(B), enacted 2012).
In 2013, the ACLU of Louisiana worked with Rep. Austin Badon (D-New Orleans) on a bill to substantially reduce sentences for simple possession of marijuana. That bill ultimately didn’t pass, and was derailed when introduced last year, but in the intervening two years it’s become clear that the people of Louisiana are ready for more sensible drug laws. After all, in 2013, over 60 percent of those incarcerated in Louisiana were there for nonviolent offenses — mostly drug charges.
An ACLU sponsored poll conducted in September 2014 shows that 71 percent of Louisiana voters oppose our current harsh sentencing laws for marijuana possession — which currently provide for a up to 20 years in prison on a third offense. On the advocacy side, at the invitation of the Lafourche Parish sheriff, we serve on a committee to help plan a new jail, to assist in determining the correct size of that facility.
We’ve worked on issues surrounding the Orleans Parish Prison, to ensure that the new facility remains at the scale approved by the City Council as recommended by nationally recognized experts in jail sizing. In addition, we’re working statewide to end the unlawful, inhumane, and counterproductive practice of jailing poor people simply because they are too poor to pay court-ordered fines.
This is important work. All voices are needed and all partners welcome. Most important, the ACLU will continue the work we initiated, working with whoever we can to improve Louisiana’s dysfunctional criminal justice system. The people of Louisiana deserve no less.
Marjorie R. Esman
executive director, ACLU and ACLU Foundation of Louisiana