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Elain Ellerbe | October 11, 2017
In recent years, the Louisiana legislature has authorized a number of population specific pre-trial diversion programs. These include diversion programs for certain offenders who are dealing with substance abuse, mental health issues, and for victims of human trafficking. These types of diversion programs have shown great success at reducing recidivism across the country. Even with their successes, the Pelican State can do several things to improve the efficacy, accountability, and transparency of these programs.
First, there is a lack of information from the court on how to participate in these programs – or their costs. Without a competent attorney, an individual has a poor chance of being able to take advantage of these programs.
Second, cost of these programs can be an insurmountable barrier to entry for many offenders. The District Attorney of each parish is the determining body as to whether someone can be accepted into any pre-trial diversion program, and that office can also require additional programming or activities the participant must undertake to successfully graduate from the program. Those additional programs and activities can include community based anger management, parenting or obtaining a GED, all of which add up to additional costs to the participant, unless there is a service provider in their parish that provides those services for free.
Third, there is a lack of transparency and accountability in regards to the efficacy of many of these programs. Louisiana appears to have a number of pre-trial diversion programs in place. However, with the lack of documentation and data available for public view, one would be hard pressed to determine their effectiveness and how many individuals are being offered the opportunity to participate.
The one pre-trial diversion program in the state that is clearly documented and appears to be the most successful is the Louisiana Supreme Court Drug Court Program. These specialized courts are operating in 32 jurisdictions for adults and 14 jurisdictions for juveniles. The programs 2017 brochure touts that of their 2013 graduates, 89.3 percent have refrained from repeating or committing a new offense– translating into a 10.7 percent recidivism rate. With the state’s overall recidivism being 47 percent, the program success speaks for itself.
There have been measures put into place by the Louisiana Legislature to address some of these issues. However, they have failed to do what they were intended. For example, the Louisiana Pre-Trial Services Commission which was established in 2014 through Senate Resolution 150 was put into place to, “review the state’s pretrial services laws and policies and to make recommendations for policy and legislative changes on or before February 1, 2015, that will assist in providing more effective pre-trial decision making.” This commission would have also reviewed the use of pre-trial diversion programs. However, the commission was not able to meet the February 1, 2015 deadline to make recommendations to the legislature. A subsequent resolution, SR 12, was passed in the 2015 legislative session extending the commission’s work with a new deadline of March 1, 2017. As it’s now October 2017,the commission, which is not listed on the Louisiana Boards and Commission website, has still not completed its work. For Louisiana to get the most out of these programs, the legislature needs to determine exactly what happened with this much needed oversight body that was commissioned to look into Louisiana’s pre-trial decision making and services needed.