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At the West Baton Rouge Parish Detention Center, from left, Mike Cazes, West Baton Rouge Sheriff, Rep. Joseph Marino III, I-Gretna, Rep. Edmond Jordan, D-Baton Rouge, Gov. John Bel Edwards, Jimmy LeBlanc, Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Corrections, at lectern, interpreter Brandon Vice, Judge Rusty Knight, Sheriff Ricky Edwards, Louisiana Sheriff's Association, Flozell Daniels Jr., and Kenn Barnes, special counsel to the Louisiana Supreme Court, unveil the first performance report of the reform efforts as a result of the bipartisan Justice Reinvestment Initiative signed into law last year Thursday June 28, 2018, in Port Allen, La.

In a recent guest column, Orleans Parish Assistant District Attorney Christopher Bowman criticized the state’s recently passed criminal justice reforms. I firmly disagree with Bowman, and I have full confidence these reforms will positively impact Louisiana.

One of the key points in Gov. John Bel Edwards’ campaign was criminal justice reform. The governor recognized Louisiana’s top billing as incarceration capital of the world as a key issue. Last year, the Legislature passed historic criminal justice reforms. These reforms are in no way “soft on crime,” but rather are smart on crime. We know reducing recidivism and facilitating successful re-entry will result in a corresponding improvement in crime rates. We know this because of years of evidence based research coming out of similarly situated states.

Bowman criticizes the July 20, 2018, release of offender Neilson Rizzuto, the man who pleaded guilty to injuring dozens of spectators by plowing his vehicle into a 2017 Endymion parade crowd. Both the DA’s office and the sentencing judge knew or should have known the time Rizzuto would serve when they allowed this plea. For his crime, Rizzuto received five years each, with one year suspended on each count, for the 11 counts of felony first-degree vehicular negligent injury, and six months each for the 14 counts of misdemeanor vehicular negligent injury. Also, the DA allowed Rizzuto to plead guilty to nonviolent offenses, to receive credit for time served (320 days) and to serve the sentences concurrently instead of one after another. Rizzuto served a total of 511 days and will be released approximately two months earlier than he would have under the prior law.

Just last month, the governor, myself, Judge Rusty Knight and West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Mike Cazes announced the early results of the state’s historic criminal justice reform legislation. We are beginning to see the fruits of our labor. There are fewer prison admissions for drug crimes, smaller probation and parole caseloads and enhanced training for officers, and millions of dollars in savings are now available for reinvestment in community programs that will equip them to become productive members of society.

Also, advocates have never said the reforms “would affect no violent offenders.” The narrative has always been that the vast majority of the reforms applied to nonviolent offenders with the exceptions being reduction in parole eligibility for violent offenders that applies prospectively, medical treatment furlough for the incapacitated, and restoring parole eligibility to a group sentenced in the 1970s.

These reforms have worked in other states, and we have seen them work on a smaller scale. Since 2013, our population and recidivism rates have declined due to previous reforms. The new reforms expand on proven policies, but major change will not happen overnight. We must stay the course.

James LeBlanc

secretary, Louisiana Department of Corrections

Baton Rouge