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Louisiana

For decades, Louisiana has had one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation, while New Orleans—and more recently, Baton Rouge—are both near the top of the list when it comes to cities with the highest crime. While previous criminal justice reform efforts have fallen flat and not made their way through the legislature, it appears that the Pelican State is finally ready to turn a corner and implement conservative, data-driven, proven policies to improve public safety while lowering their incarceration rate.

In June 2016, in the midst of a marathon Legislative Session grappling with cuts necessary to balance the state budget, the inaugural meeting of the Justice Reinvestment Task Force took place. The Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task Force, as created by HCR 82 of the 2015 Legislative session, is a coalition whose members include judges, legislators, a sheriff, a prosecutor, a religious leader and other criminal justice and corrections professionals.  The group is charged with developing recommendations to reduce the prison population, maintain/improve public safety, such as revisions to pretrial procedures, sentencing rules, and evidence-based investment in programs that lessen recidivism.

A key player working with the Task Force is the Pew Charitable Trust, which includes a team of seven attorneys, criminologists and data analysts who travel to Louisiana every two weeks from Washington, D.C., where the organization’s Public Safety Performance Project is headquartered. The end-game is to prepare a Legislative package for the 2017 session that will bring about substantive systemic reform.

Governor Edwards, following through on promises he made during his election campaign, endorsed the idea of making substantive reforms across the criminal justice system with the goal of changing Louisiana’s status as the most incarcerating state in the nation

“You will never convince me that the people of Louisiana are innately more sinister or criminal than elsewhere. So what are we doing?” Edwards asserts that a “lock ’em up” culture has failed to reduce crime even as the state’s incarceration rate has shot up 35 percent over the past 20 years — currently at 816 per 100,000 people, double the national average. This costs the state $600 million to $700 million each year. One of the reasons Governor Edwards cites as why the time is right for such reform is the leadership of long time Secretary of Corrections, James LeBlanc. LeBlanc, who was retained by Edwards under his administration, has served as Corrections Secretary for the past two administrations, and has been responsible for the implementation of evidence-based reentry programs starting as far back as 2004.

The legislation establishing the Task Force was a joint effort of both sides of the legislative aisle.  Bi-partisan support for this effort is wide-spread, including the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association, the Louisiana District Attorneys Association the Louisiana Public Defender Board and a number of non-profits focused on criminal justice reform.

Right on Crime Signatory Kevin Kane of the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, states, “The formation of the Task Force shows that Louisiana is getting serious about criminal justice reform. Their recommendations will be critical to transforming our prison system.”

The continued budget deficits, which are growing everyday as a result of the recent historic flooding in 2016 of the northern and southern parts of the state, make the need for finding cost-effective ways to enhance public safety in Louisiana even more pressing than ever before.

Sources:

Smart on Crime-Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task Force Video.

Simerman, John. September 5, 2016.Louisiana Could Lose Title of Highest-in-the-Nation Incarceration Rate, But Hurdles Exist. The New Orleans Advocate.

Purpera, Daryl. September 9, 2016. Our Views: Same Money on Prison Costs. The Advocate.

Webster, Richard; Bullington, Johnathan. May 11, 2016. Why Does New Orleans Have More Murders Than Similar Cities? Experts Search for Answers. New Orleans Times-Picayune.

ABC WGNO, New Orleans. February 29, 2016. The 30 ‘murder capitals in the U.S.-Baton Rouge and New Orleans Make the List.

The Advocate. May 27, 2016. Criminal Justice Sees Real Reform.

Vote NOLA. June 17, 2016. Louisiana’s Parole Reform Law Continues a Positive Trend in Criminal Justice Reform.

Mann, Robert. July 10, 2016. A Moment of Crisis, Opportunity for Louisiana’s Criminal Justice System. New Orleans Time-Picayune.

Lent: Season for Second Chances

Scott Peyton | March 6, 2019
In most parts of the United States on March 5, it was just another Tuesday.  However, in Louisiana, most state offices, schools and local businesses were closed to celebrate Mardi…

Excessive Fines and Fees Are Hindering Reentry in Louisiana

Scott Peyton | February 28, 2019
Act 260 (HB 249) is one of ten bills that make up Louisiana’s 2017 Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) reforms.  The goal of Act 260 is “to ensure that criminal justice…

The Promising Fruits of Louisiana’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative

Scott Peyton | February 12, 2019
On November 1, 2017, as a part of the criminal justice reforms passed by the legislature that year, nearly 2,000 individuals were to be released from Louisiana correctional facilities.…

Right on Crime Partners with the Pelican Institute to Offer Louisiana Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Solutions

Right on Crime | February 12, 2019
Solutions would build on successes of 2017 state reforms and offer insights into new policy needs Please click to view the issue solutions papers regarding mens rea and civil asset forfeiture from Right…

Justice Reinvestment and Second Chances in Louisiana

Scott Peyton | January 28, 2019
If ACT 277of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) Legislation from 2017 had a face, it would be that of Roderick Thomas. ACT 277 ensures that most people sentenced to life as…

Our Lady of Prompt Succor and Criminal Justice Reform

Scott Peyton | January 8, 2019
The preamble to the Louisiana Constitution reads: “We, the people of Louisiana, grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political, economic, and religious liberties we enjoy, and desiring to protect…

Rethinking Pretrial Justice in the Pelican State

Scott Peyton | December 19, 2018
Louisiana recently shed the title of having the highest incarceration rate in the country, and now it is time to take a look at the state of pretrial detention…

Judge Scott Schlegel – A Legal Rebel With A Cause

Elain Ellerbe | December 18, 2018
In the 24th Judicial District located in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, Judge Scott Schlegel created and presides over one of the most progressive and innovative criminal courts—though Judge Schlegel is quick…

Right on Crime Welcomes New Louisiana State Director Scott Peyton

Scott Peyton | November 8, 2018
Probation and parole officers are on the front lines of criminal justice reforms. They are required to wear many hats and are faced with mounds of paperwork and large…

In Louisiana, A New Voter-Approved Initiative Requires Unanimous Juries in Criminal Trials

Scott Peyton | November 7, 2018
Last weekend we turned our clocks back one hour.  We moved back in time for a brief moment.  Today, in Louisiana, we have moved our “clocks” forward to a…

In the Trenches of Reentry

Elain Ellerbe | October 16, 2018
Over the 25 years of my work with incarcerated individuals and their families, I have had the great pleasure and honor to run into a number of what I…

Employment is a crucial step after release from incarceration

Elain Ellerbe | September 25, 2018
It should come as no surprise that obtaining a job after incarceration is extremely important to the overall success of an individual returning home after prison.  Getting a job…
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