Louisiana is the prison capital of the world.
To put this fact in context, the Pelican State’s incarceration rate is nearly double that of the entire country.
Regrettably, there is not much more to show for this approach to corrections than a giant bill. Louisiana continues to rank among the worst in national crime statistics despite investing approximately $700 million a year in corrections.
A primary issue with Louisiana’s criminal justice system is its high recidivism rate. Each year, roughly 1,500 state offenders arereleased from prison, and nearly half will end up back behind bars within just five years.
Under most of Louisiana’s current practices and policies, this trend is to be expected. Often times, offenders enter prison without education and adequate work experience, serve their time, and are then released with little more than a bus ticket. Without quality moral, educational or occupational training, ex-offenders are likely to go right back into their criminal habits and behavior.
Fortunately, it seems the state is looking to turn this trend around. Thanks to an educational effort started a few years back by the Smart on Crime Louisiana coalition (SOC), many Louisianans are now realizing that there are more logical ways to address crime.
Kevin Kane, President of the Pelican Institute for Public Policy — non-partisan think tank in New Orleans spearheading SOC — has explained:
“Many of our neighboring states — including Texas, Mississippi and Georgia — have successfully reduced incarceration rates, saved taxpayer dollars and reduced crime. We are in a position to identify and adopt their best practices and achieve these goals here in Louisiana. Our political leadership needs to take advantage of this opportunity.”
Since 2014, 18 SOC-supported bills have passed the Legislature and been signed into law. These reforms have reduced low-level drug violation sentences, expanded access to specialty courts and reentry programs, expanded eligibility for parole consideration and removed barriers to ex-offenders reentering the workplace.
Most remarkable of the 18 bills is H.R. 82 from the 2015 legislative session, which established the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task Force. The task force is a non-partisan group of 14
members with diverse professional experience, including prosecutors, defense attorneys, representatives of the courts and executive branch, lawmakers and other seasoned criminal justice experts.
The Task Force, which began meeting in the summer of this year, will be undergoing a top to bottom analysis of Louisiana’s criminal justice system. In addition, it will closely examine policies that have proven successful in other states along with scientific research about changing criminal behavior and keeping the public safe.
In the 2017 legislative session, the Task Force will prepare a package of recommendations based on its research for the legislature to consider. The mission of the Task Force is not only supported by SOC, which includes key leaders and organizations in the business industry, but also Governor John Bel Edwards, legislators and other community leaders.
In that vein, Congressman Steve Scalise (R-La.) has also shown support for the criminal justice reform movement. At the federal level, he has been working to educate members of Congress on a package of bills that would make changes to the federal criminal justice system along the lines of those shown to work in Texas, Georgia and other states.
Thanks to Scalise’s efforts, a growing number of Congressmen are supportive of efforts to improve criminal justice in the United States, of which Scalise recently stated:
“There’s growing bipartisan consensus in Congress that there are steps we can take to make our criminal justice system more effective and efficient while still keeping us safe.”
Statewide and nationally, more and more people are supporting smarter ways to improve community safety, and Louisianans should be proud to know that such powerful leadership is coming from their state.
Margaret Mire manages state affairs for Americans for Tax Reform. Formerly a resident of Baton Rouge and New Orleans, she recently moved to Washington, D.C.