Elain Ellerbe

Elain Ellerbe

As Dizzy Dean once said, “It ain’t bragging if you done it.” Louisianans should be proud of the criminal justice reforms achieved in the historic Justice Reinvestment Initiative legislation passed on 2017 — reform that has improved public safety, increased funding for victim services, all while saving millions of tax dollars.

“Community involvement and support is a crucial part of advancing the criminal justice reform effort we’ve begun in Louisiana, which is already showing signs of progress,” Go. John Bel Edwards said in June. “This is another important step toward improving public safety and further lowering our incarceration rate, which is no longer the highest in the nation.”

Edwards has now announced the first recipients of the Community Incentive Grants, a crucial part of the JRI.

The grants for re-entry services were made possible by the $12.2 million in savings already realized in the first year of JRI’s implementation. The recipients were chosen after a stringent vetting process conducted by the Department of Corrections under the guidance and direction of the State Office of Procurement.

Five parishes — East Baton Rouge, Caddo, Orleans, Jefferson and St. Tammany — were targeted for the first round of funding because of the high number of former offenders returning to these communities. Sixteen agencies in these parishes applied for the grants, and all will receive some level of funding.

The first year’s savings from the JRI reforms is also providing funding for victim services. Family Justice Center in East Baton Rouge received $1.45 million for several projects, including assisting victims of domestic and family violence.

Additionally, backlogged debts to crime victims will be paid down through the Crime Victims Reparations Fund. Funds used on new technology will strengthen the Attorney General’s Child Predator Task Force, improve computer interfaces with all state clerks of court, and assist the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement, which will monitor implementation of the newly-funded programs.

We applaud these grant awards, and the fiscal conservatism the state used to ensure funding was available before committing resources.

Louisiana’s reigned as No. 1 incarcerator in the world for two decades and something had to be done. That’s why JRI legislation in 2016 drew support from both sides of the legislative aisle. And that bipartisanship continues on this important issue.

The initiative developed after a year and half of discussions by the task force’s criminal justice experts is already paying financial and public safety dividends. Louisiana is now down to No. 2 in the state rankings of per capita incarcerations, and JRI provided the state with real savings to reinvest in the very programs that are proven to lower crime, lower recidivism and protect public safety, as well as help families, become whole again.

It would have been great to also have dedicated money upfront to improve and enhance re-entry services, but given recent budget shortfalls, this just wasn’t possible at this time.

Yet there were many individuals who saw the vision of what Louisiana could do, even with budgetary constraints, by working together for the good of our state and our communities, we did it.

Dizzy Dean’s advice to young ballplayers was always simple — “practice, work hard and give it everything you’ve got.”

Legislators, civic leaders, and everyday citizens worked tirelessly to make criminal justice reform a reality; now it’s time to give it all we’ve got. Reform is working in Louisiana, and that’s something to celebrate.

Elain Ellerbe is policy analyst and fellow of Right on Crime, a project of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.