We are getting a better idea of how well criminal justice reform is working in Louisiana. The state released early 1,900 prisoners three months ago. So far, 76 of those early releases have been rearrested. According to WWL-TV, those released early committed new crimes including various drug charges, bank fraud, felon in possession of a firearm, theft of a motor vehicle, aggravated assault, theft, simple burglary, DWI, flight from an officer, armed robbery, battery, criminal trespassing and domestic abuse battery.
This should not come as a surprise. Any cop on the beat can tell you only a small percentage of people commit the vast majority of crime. Police are constantly rearresting the same people over and over. Gov. John Bel Edwards' office tried to put a good spin on the rearrest of the 76 prisoners released early.
"The vast majority of the 1,900 offenders released on Nov. 1 are living up to the terms and conditions of their release,” Tucker Barry, press secretary for the governor, told WWL.
But how could Barry possibly know that? Does he assume the 76 arrested out of the 1,900 released early are the only ones to reoffend? Common sense would tell us a whole bunch more have reoffended but just haven’t been caught. In New Orleans, police solve fewer than one-third of all murders. Murder is a serious crime, and yet the vast majority of killers get away with it. Can you imagine how many criminals committing less serious crimes get away with it?
The 1,900 criminals prematurely dumped on the streets came as a result of the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Act, which was supported by a coalition of conservative and liberal state leaders. It expanded parole opportunities, reduced sentence lengths for certain crimes and re-calculated release dates for many inmates. The goal, we were told, was to reduce the state's prison population by 10 percent and save $262 million over the next decade.
The Justice Reinvestment Task Force reported Louisiana has the highest per capita incarceration rate in the United States, with 816 people in prison for every 100,000 residents. That’s nearly double the national average. But it’s also true we lead the nation in murder, per capita.
The task force did find 81 percent of admissions to prisons in Louisiana in 2015 were for nonviolent crimes. But that can be misleading because prosecutors will often allow criminals to plea bargain down from a violent conviction to one that more quickly pushes them through the overburdened court system. We were told only nonviolent prisoners would be eligible for early release under The Justice Reinvestment Act. But several of those released early in November have been rearrested for things like armed robbery, aggravated assault, battery, and domestic abuse battery. That should put to rest the narrative that prison reform only involves the release of the nonviolent.
The task force estimated Louisiana’s justice reform legislation would drop prison population 13 percent from an expected 36,541 to 31,724 people. That’s close to 5,000 more criminals on the streets that would otherwise be behind bars. Common sense dictates that will lead to more crime.
Those pushing criminal justice reform in Louisiana love to point to the success of what happened in Texas. It is undeniable. But Texas, unlike Louisiana, first employed a $241 million “justice reinvestment” package for treatment and diversion programs. The front-end reform items included 800 new residential substance abuse treatment beds and 3,000 more outpatient substance abuse treatment slots. Texas also installed 2,700 substance abuse treatment beds behind bars, 1,400 new intermediate sanction beds, and 300 halfway-house beds. Texas also capped parole caseloads at 75 to ensure closer supervision.
In Louisiana, the Justice Reinvestment Act is designed to eventually use the savings from incarcerating fewer criminals for things like more treatment, halfway houses, and probation officers. But there’s no guarantee legislators will appropriate the savings. Unlike Texas, Louisiana enacted prison reform on the cheap. We just dumped a bunch of criminals on the streets without any of the initial investment that happened in Texas. There will be a price to pay for such foolishness.
Email Dan Fagan at firstname.lastname@example.org.