For Gov. Bobby Jindal, his socially conservative views don’t mean blindness toward the possibility of reducing some sentences for marijuana possession.
The governor said he would sign a newly passed measure backed by a broad coalition of liberal and conservative groups. House Bill 149 would rein in the harsher penalties for small-time marijuana possession offenses.
It is paired with House Bill 161, intended to help steer low-level probation or parole violators to less expensive alternatives to jail.
In each case, the efforts to deal with the rising costs of jailing many people in Louisiana have drawn backing that transcends the old political divides.
“I’m not for legalization, but I am for common sense reforms,” Jindal told the national interviewer Mike Gallagher. “We’ve been in favor of more treatment, not just longer prison sentences. … I think it’s better for the offenders, better for the taxpayers.”
That in a nutshell is the agenda for the Smart on Crime movement, which has gained considerable traction across the “red state” South for criminal justice reforms formerly given the cold shoulder legislatively.
The new Louisiana bills brought together Democratic legislators with Republicans eager to grapple with the costs — social as well as financial — of Louisiana’s high incarceration rates.
We commend the governor for his decision to sign the measures. As Jindal is a lame duck, forbidden by the Louisiana Constitution to run for a third consecutive term, his successor will have to deal with much of the implementation of the new measures but also will oversee an important process of building on these legislative initiatives.
The bipartisan Smart on Crime movement also backed a resolution creating a Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task Force to develop sentencing and corrections policies that make more sense. The 14-member group will, we hope, take the lead on building upon the efforts of criminal justice officials in other states to protect public safety in a financially responsible manner.
Jindal’s agreement to the 2015 measures is of value, but we also expect more out of the Smart on Crime movement in the future.
Louisiana is not a laggard, exactly, because state corrections officials have understood some of the challenges in today’s system and worked toward solutions. Among other things, inmates that will inevitably return to society are being given opportunities to catch up on missed schooling and learn trades.
But we see an opportunity for the new task force to focus on the word in its title: reinvestment. If we save some state and local money through sentencing and probation reforms, we need to know how to use the savings toward more improvements in the system.
We’re No. 1 in jailing folks. In the case of violent offenders, that’s not a bad place to be. Where we can be more cost-effective is in drug offenses and other low-level crimes, where a long time in jail is not a useful approach, either for the inmate or the taxpayer.