Gov. John Bel Edwards on Thursday called Louisiana's 2017 criminal justice reform package a comprehensive effort that included the voices of both crime victims and law enforcement leaders during his address to prosecutors from across the U.S., a group historically hesitant to support such measures. 

Edwards touted the 10-bill package aimed at reducing the state's incarceration rate — the highest in the U.S. — as a bipartisan move that he believes will be beneficial for those involved in the criminal justice system, as well as every state resident. 

"We always talk about return on investment in every other area of state government, why shouldn't that also apply to criminal justice?" Edwards said to about 30 prosecutors from around the nation in Baton Rouge for a meeting of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, Major County Prosecutors’ Council. 

Throughout the legislative process, the reforms faced fierce opposition from the state's district attorneys and sheriffs; however, a compromise was eventually reached between those law enforcement agencies and the governor's office. While East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said he still has some reservations about the implementation of the laws, which remain ongoing, he said he does hope they end up successful. 

Moore introduced Edwards as the man who "led the charge on justice reform," and said he was impressed that the governor always left his door open to hear from the state's prosecutors. 

"This gentleman is honest, ethical and hard working," Moore said. 

Edwards said all the bills included in the reform package were based off other states' successful policies.

"Nobody wants to experiment with public safety," Edwards said.

Early on, his administration developed a task force to research best practices, but, most importantly, he said, a task force has continued that work to monitor and analyze how the changes play out in the state.

"I will not pretend it's going to be perfect," Edwards said, "but I think we got the big parts of it right."

Edwards was clear in saying that the reforms' success does rely on a large web of statewide leaders, including prosecutors. 

"It requires people to implement it faithfully," Edwards said. 

The state is projected to save $262 million when it no longer foots the bill to house as many inmates who, in some cases, will have shorter sentences, and 70 percent of that money has been designated for programs to rehabilitate offenders and support victims.

Edwards said when that money begins to roll in, he won't be surprised if legislators try to divert it to other places, especially as the state continues to struggle with budget shortfalls — but he said that is not an option. 

"That's the surest way to fail, that we don't create alternatives to prison, that we don't get the treatment and education and job training to make sure people are successful," Edwards said. "I'm not going to allow that to happen."

The council, made up of the elected prosecuting attorneys from the 35 most populated jurisdictions in the U.S., was created by the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys to further meet the demands that prosecutors from large urban areas face in the administration of justice, according to its website.

Follow Grace Toohey on Twitter, @grace_2e.