Jeff Landry.jpg

Jeff Landry

The governor's Justice Reinvestment Task Force was created to recommend strategic changes that would "get more public safety for each dollar spent." Its recent proposals neither make our state safer nor utilize tax dollars better.

Despite a stated emphasis on reducing the prison population and a declared concern over our nation’s highest incarceration rate, the governor seemed to miss the real root of the problem and ways to correct it.

To be clear: I — like probably most residents of our state — would embrace reforms that help rehabilitate, educate, and train nonviolent offenders in an effort to reduce recidivism. However, the governor's recommendations seem focused on violent criminals and changes to their parole eligibility. More disturbing, the legislation being discussed would seek to make retroactive changes.

If enacted, this reckless approach would deeply hurt and scar victims who have relied on existing laws to gain a sense of closure from traumatic and tragic events. Fast-tracking parole eligibility, without notifying victims, based on some rehabilitation formula may also run afoul of Louisiana’s Constitutional Victim’s Rights provisions.

As I posed to the governor recently: Where are the specific plans and programs to educate, rehabilitate, and train the current prison population? Where is the expansion of Drug Court funding and other existing successful programs? Where is the dramatic funding increase in the Department of Probation and Parole for the hiring and training necessary to facilitate such a dramatic reduction in prison population?

With our probation officers currently supervising more than 150 probationers per officer — which is one-third higher than the Southern average — the governor's lack of preparation for massive increase in their caseload is very troubling.

Furthermore, making the governor's changes to the Louisiana Criminal Justice System without a lengthy study is ill-advised. With 580 felony criminal statutes impacted and numerous procedural statutes related to them, implementing such changes will be complex. A dramatic change without study may result in real and damaging unintended consequences to our criminal justice system and, more importantly, to the Louisiana citizens the governor and I have sworn to protect.

We need not look any further than our neighbor to the west for ways to become "smart on crime." Before enacting reforms to reduce the number of people incarcerated, Texas invested $240 million in alternatives to incarcerations and supervising services.

I fully understand our state is cash-strapped; however, if this is going to be a priority, then funding it should also be. Emptying the jails without properly preparing for the consequences would be a disservice not only to those incarcerated, but also to the law-abiding citizens of our state.

Reducing the incarceration rate of Louisiana for its own sake will not create safer communities; rather, it will have the opposite effect. The governor should pursue reforms based on having a fully-implemented plan in place for the effects of that reform. Putting the cart before the horse jeopardizes our State's public safety.

Jeff Landry is attorney general of Louisiana.