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Elain Ellerbe | February 2, 2018
Once again Louisiana is facing some very hard decisions on how to fill the nearly billion-dollar shortfall that has been talked about since this time last year. The fiscal cliff is in sight and elected officials would do well to think through their options quickly.
However, many of the most recent budget cuts proposed by the Governor will not only severely cut State Corrections, but local sheriffs’ and District Attorneys’ budgets as well. These “doomsday” cuts would most certainly affect the amount of savings expected from the new reforms which are intended to be reinvested in the very programs and services that maintain public safety and lower recidivism. As the conservative voice for criminal justice reform, Right on Crime wants to ensure that the fledgling criminal justice reforms passed during the 2017 session have the best opportunity to come to fruition. The reforms were enacted to save the state $262 million dollars over the next 10 years and lower the prison and community supervision populations by 10 to 12 percent.
Right now the Governor’s proposed budget plan is calling for cuts to be made to the per diems paid to local sheriffs for housing state offenders in order to save money. Whether these cuts are needed or not, Right on Crime would recommend that a graduated per diem schedule be put in place that would range from the Governor’s budget cut suggestion of $19.00 per day to the present per diem of $24.00 per day. The amount of per diem paid to the sheriffs would be based on the degree to which the local jail is providing reentry programming to the state offenders they house. This financial adjustment not only saves money in the short run, but it also incentivizes sheriffs to provide reentry services that have shown to consistently lower recidivism. From Right on Crime’s perspective, it is imperative due to Louisiana’s over reliance on local jail facilities to house state offenders, that some mechanism be put in place to motivate sheriffs to offer reentry programming in their jails.
Additionally, Louisiana has been selected as one of four pilot states by the Safe Streets & Second Chances initiative due to the legislative steps taken to reverse Louisiana’s position as the number one incarcerator in the world. This national initiative, which will place Louisiana in the forefront of criminal justice reform, will use an innovative evidence-based approach to identify best practices and share them with state criminal justice systems.
Now is not the time to short-circuit the gains made in Louisiana’s criminal justice reforms. Instead legislators should continue to find ways to better utilize dollars spent on corrections and law enforcement building on the reforms in place to make our communities safer and save taxpayer dollars.