Last year, Democrats and Republicans in Louisiana came together to pass criminal justice reforms aimed at improving public safety, reducing crime and recidivism, and saving taxpayer dollars.
Similar reforms have produced positive results in every other southern state. Specifically, these reforms focus our Louisiana’s prison beds on those who pose the greatest threats, strengthen community supervision, and clear barriers so that former inmates more successfully reenter society.
Changes were sorely needed. Our system is quick to impose harsh sentences on nonviolent offenders. After these men and women serve their time, they exit ill-equipped to rejoin society. Joblessness and homelessness are rampant among ex-offenders. As a result, we pour millions of dollars into a system that fails to rehabilitate offenders and fails to keep us safe.
The 2017 reforms are law – but now is not the time for a victory lap. These fixes won’t work if we don’t do them right.
The state is in the process of implementing these landmark reforms so we can reap the benefits our neighbors have already seen. For example, South Carolina has seen a 16 percent drop in crime while saving nearly $500 million over just six years. North Carolina’s crime rate has dropped 19 percent since their 2011 reforms. In Texas, prison populations have declined by 16 percent while crime rates have dropped 30 percent since their reforms were implemented in 2007.
Gov. Jon Bel Edwards announced the formation of an oversight committee to ensure the new policies are implemented effectively and fairly. The committee is made up of a number of fine individuals who are committed to public safety including Secretary James LeBlanc, who runs the Department of Corrections and has been a leading voice in advocating for these reforms.
Creating this oversight committee was the right thing to do. Unfortunately, the governor named LeBlanc as the oversight committee’s chair. The person in charge of implementing these reforms should not also be tasked with serving as the system’s primary watchdog.
Louisiana can’t afford to drop the ball on these reforms. Properly executed the reforms will improve public safety and save taxpayer money while having a dramatic impact on improving the lives of non-violent prisoners and their families.
It is critically important the public have confidence not only in the value of these reforms but also the in effectiveness of the Department of Corrections in executing their task well.
Those who care about fixing a broken system should pay close attention over the next several months to see how the oversight committee will develop and listen to their recommendations. And we also have an obligation to ensure the job is done with open eyes and a fair process.
James M. “Jay” Lapeyre, Jr.
member, Smart On Crime Louisiana steering committee