Craig_DeRoche

When it comes to criminal justice reform, Louisiana is headed in the right direction. The state was once the nation’s top incarcerator, but Republicans and Democrats banded together in 2017, passing robust reforms to make communities safer while reducing the prison population.

Since then, Louisiana has witnessed a 3% drop in violent crime, a 20% decline in the number of people incarcerated for nonviolent offenses, and a nearly 8% reduction in overall prison population.

The reforms are working. Yet, while crime falls, a recent Barna poll commissioned by Prison Fellowship found that 60% of the public thinks crime is increasing. Why? More than one factor is at play, but misinformation from politicians hasn’t helped.

A smattering of Republicans have dusted off their old tough-on-crime messages to score political points. They’re members of my own party — I served as Speaker of the House in Michigan as a Republican — but they are misguided.

These critics want Louisianans to think justice reform is filling the streets with violent criminals. But they’re wrong. The Pelican State is safer now than in 2017.

Louisiana’s justice reform was not a liberal notion, anyway. Of the 10 bills that were a part of the reform package, seven were authored by Republicans. By bashing reforms, Republican critics go against their own party’s success record. They are also at odds with President Donald Trump. Last December, he signed the FIRST STEP Act, bringing significant, bipartisan reform to the federal system.

Louisiana voters also support the progress being made in their state. A poll last year found that 92% of voters support offering more rehabilitative and job-training programs for people with nonviolent convictions, and 85% support investments in community corrections while reducing sentences for those with low-level charges. All of these reforms strengthen families and protect communities in Louisiana.

If public support isn’t enough to get detractors on board, they should follow the money. Louisiana’s Department of Corrections credited the reforms for $17.8 million in savings last year alone. That’s one installment toward the estimated $262 million the reforms are expected to produce — 70% of which will be reinvested in local programs that reduce reoffending and support crime victims.

Ordinary Louisianans are enjoying the fruits of justice reforms that have helped simultaneously reduce crime and improve public safety. A few leaders have ignored reality, hoping a tired, tough-on-crime rhetoric would help them divide voters and make up some election ground. Their approach was dangerous and shortsighted: Justice reforms have already made Louisiana communities safer, contributed to more intact families, and saved millions of taxpayer dollars. Smart leaders — of any party — should capitalize on these reforms. To go backward would put the state at risk, and people won’t stand for it.

Craig DeRoche is senior vice president of advocacy and public policy at Prison Fellowship, the nation’s largest Christian nonprofit serving prisoners, former prisoners, and their families. It's located near Washington, D.C.