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U.S. Sen. John Kennedy’s criminal justice reform critique to Trump filled with errors

| August 21, 2018

This article by Right on Crime signatories  James M. Lapeyre Jr. of Smart on Crime Louisiana and Daniel J. Erspamer of the Pelican Institute for Public Policy originally appeared in The Advocate August 20, 2018.

On Aug. 8, U.S. Sen. John Kennedy sent a letter to President Donald Trump criticizing Louisiana’s 2017 package of criminal justice reforms. The letter contained a number of factual errors to support his claim that the reforms have failed to achieve the intended results.

Here are selected examples of some of the material errors in Kennedy’s letter:

  • Claim: “22 percent of the [early release] inmates have been rearrested.”
  • Fact: State records show the re-arrest rate is actually 19 percent. This is below the national re-arrest average of 26 percent.
  • Claim: “Our recidivism is on track to exceed 50 percent.”
  • Fact: Per the Department of Corrections, in the nine months since the reforms were implemented, the reincarceration rate is 6 percent, behind pace of the full-year average of 15 percent before the reforms.
  • Claim: “Louisiana’s streets are not safer because of criminal justice reform.”
  • Fact: This conflicts with the data so far, and in every state that has enacted similar reforms, including neighboring Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, crime and recidivism rates have demonstrably decreased, even in states which did not allocate up-front funding for re-entry programs.
  • Claim: “Louisiana started freeing several thousand inmates last year by reducing the mandatory amount of time they had to serve … they were simply released from prison.”
  • Fact: Everyone released early was eligible for early release even before last year. The new law decreased the amount of time served, with most individuals released early through the recent reforms exiting prison 30 to 90 days in advance of their previously-scheduled release dates.

Broad coalitions, including conservative, business and free-market organizations and leaders, came together to build all-too-rare consensus around a big idea that has proven to work everywhere it’s been tried. Let’s see the job all the way through and remain vigilant in seeking the highest level of accountability for proper implementation of these reforms.

The actual facts so far are extremely promising, but it’s far too early to draw conclusions. Instead, we should unite around the opportunity, clarify the facts and bring logic and analysis to assessing success or failure. It is vital that the public keep everyone accountable to the truth.

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RIGHT ON CRIME is a national campaign to promote successful, conservative solutions on American criminal justice policy—reforming the system to ensure public safety, shrink government, and save taxpayers money. By sharing research and policy ideas and mobilizing strong conservative voices, we work to raise awareness of the growing support for effective reforms within the conservative movement. We are transforming the debate on criminal justice in America.

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