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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.

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Elain Ellerbe | November 10, 2017
This article by Elain Ellerbe originally appeared in Shreveport Times, November 10th, 2017. Criminal Justice Reform in Louisiana has begun and it’s a marathon, not a 100-yard dash. This past…

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Elain Ellerbe | November 7, 2017
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Right on Crime | November 3, 2017
This article by Right on Crime Signatory and CEO of the Pelican Institute, Daniel Erspamer, originally appeared in The Hay Ride, November 2nd, 2017 This week’s news will be…

Watch: Louisiana’s Prison Reform

Katie Greer | October 31, 2017
Right on Crime’s State Director for Louisiana, Elain Ellerbe, sat down with LPB for an interview on the new safety procedures for the state’s November 1st inmate release.  The…

Prison Reform will Make Louisiana Safer

Right on Crime | October 19, 2017
This article by Daniel Erspamer, Right on Crime Signatory and CEO of the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, originally appeared in Shreveport Times, October 17th, 2017. Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve…

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Elain Ellerbe | October 17, 2017
On November 1, the first of the Justice Reinvestment legislation will be implemented as provided by Senate Bill 139, now Act 280, which provides changes for parole consideration and…

Louisiana Pre-Trial Diversion Programs

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,…

Felony Class Task Force off to an Interesting Start

Elain Ellerbe | September 22, 2017
At the initial meeting of the Louisiana Felony Class Task Force, all 12 task-force members or their designees were in attendance. This initial meeting was chaired by Supreme Court…

Louisiana’s Bail Bond Industry and the Court System’s Fee Based Conundrum

Elain Ellerbe | September 21, 2017
With bail reform becoming part of a larger national conversation, Louisiana should also consider its practices and overuse of cash bail.  While the bail bond system was established to…

Right on Crime Welcomes Several New Louisiana Leaders of Criminal Justice Reform as Signatories to Their Statement of Principles

Right on Crime | September 15, 2017
Recently, several prominent leaders of the criminal justice reform movement in the Pelican State have signed onto Right on Crime’s Statement of Principles. The new signatories were all integral…

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Elain Ellerbe | September 14, 2017
  Individuals released from prison and returning home face a number of obstacles that can hurt their chance at successful reentry. One of those obstacles is the burden of…

Challenges of Justice Reform

Elain Ellerbe | September 5, 2017
This article by Elain Ellerbe originally appeared in The Advocate, September 4th, 2017. For many years, Louisiana has relied on local jails and detention centers to house large numbers of…
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